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'We've to make sure this is not another false dawn': Best urges Ulster to back up big performance

The Ireland captain had to wait a long time to taste victory for Ulster, and he’s intent on repeating the feat on Sunday.

EVEN AFTER AN overdue taste of victory for his native province, a full 55 weeks after the last one, Rory Best was unwilling to afford himself much time to celebrate Saturday’s immensly satisfying win over La Rochelle.

In the wake of a 20 – 13 win that put them top of Champions Cup pool 1 with a game to go, Best insisted the result was to be enjoyed, but the skipper give the sense of a man who was including himself in the party planning.

Rory Best and Jérémy Sinzelle Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Perhaps it’s the statistically-odd run of losses with the red hand on his chest that have taught him the volatile value of a solitary result. Far from getting wrapped up in his own landmark – which was more than a freak upshot of his necessitated absences rather then any meaningful signal that his presence somehow weakened his team – Best, typically, refocused minds instantly onto the next important task. Although it’s obviously nice to get a monkey off his back before next Sunday’s Pool finale away to Wasps.

“We can talk about that now without a grimace,” Best said after suiting himself up for post-match media duty on Saturday. Over the past year he had sat in the same seat and looked up to wryly ask inquisitors: ‘well, how long is it now?’ after his losing run was first pointed out to him.

“I think I was lying when I said it doesn’t affect you and you don’t think about it because ultimately you do. It means so much to all of us to win and to win in an Ulster shirt.

“That is what we prepare for. We prepare to win matches and when it doesn’t happen it hurts us all.

“I think something we talked about (was) reactions over that Christmas period and we had not delivered on it. But if you look back at this week and the way everyone prepared, weighed in and the hard work that went in, it was nice that it came out on the pitch for a bit of a change.”

Ulster celebrate at the final whistle Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

The very fact that the performance to beat the French powerhouse was a reaction and response to a heavy defeat in Dublin is cause for concerrn, however.

The Ulster fanabse have seen too much inconsistency in this team to keep nagging doubts very far away, Best understands this perfectly, and had already turned to demand that his squad follow up the performance with another just like it.

“We will see how we can back it up, we need to make sure again, we enjoy the win, but then Monday/Tuesday we get back in and get back down to earth again and make sure this is not another false dawn.

“We realise what it took to get to that point before a ball is even kicked and then what it took over that 80 minutes to get us the win. That is ultimately what we will see. If we can reproduce better again and we can set our benchmark, it will be a turning point for us.

But if we allow complacency to come in and we cut a few corners and we produce something that is not somewhere near our best, then it will just be frustrating, and there will be a little bit of all for nothing.”

He added:  “I think we have to connect the dots to: what we did during the training week equals what you do at the weekend and how you prepare.

“If you make mistakes in training continually they are going to manifest themselves in games. That is the big challenge for us. We will see where we are in eight days’ time… for me, to win away from home against some of the top sides you are going to have to improve again.”

Before Best arrived up into the Kingspan Stadium press room, director of rugby Les Kiss spoke on similar themes; the need to consistently hit the high standards they proved themselves capable of on an otherwise dull Saturday afternoon in January. On home turf, on the big occasion, Ulster will always be a special sort of animal. But with the pressure he’s been under and calls for his job, Kiss needs that animal set loose much more often.

Nick Timoney celebrates his try with teammates Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

“I don’t think the pressure is going to release, that’s the nature of it,” says Kiss.

“Getting as many wins as you can is all you can do but, that last month, it’s not what we expect of ourselves and it’s not what we accept of ourselves.

“(Saturday) is what we expect of ourselves, we’ve got to be a team that is nourished by that and gets an appetite for that. We know that it’s possible and if we do that, then we’ve got something to be proud of in two or three years’ time. It won’t happen overnight but we need to be better every week.”

It’s important we don’t put it on one or two people. We have to grow that as a team. That we’re able to step up to important moments and nail them, but we’re also able to go to moments that aren’t as important and nail them too. We’ll get there.”

“I have no doubt that’s what we’re capable of, but we haven’t put it together consistently. Belief and confidence goes along way. We stood up, delivered on the plan and got a return.

“Those moments that we delivered today, they can’t be one-offs. We want to put those weekend, on weekend. That’s our commitment but it starts with belligerence in defence and we have to build on that next week against (Wasps) the best width-to-width team on their home turf.”

‘When you’re under pressure, who stands up and who doesn’t fold?’: Kiss hails lasting Lealiifano impact

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Sean Farrell

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