Murray Kinsella reports from Paris
COMPOSURE CAN BE a difficult thing to measure accurately but it is a key component of the best teams.
As a man well versed in the importance of mental resolve, having helped Ireland to several major achievements, Rory Best recognises that Ulster don’t quite have enough of it at the moment.
The northern province are at the beginning of a journey of development and the hope is that big European occasions like last Saturday’s visit to Paris to take on Racing 92 will build the mental side of their game, as well as their technical, tactical and physical dimensions.
But Best also understands that international rugby is the best accelerator of a player’s skills in every area and he wants to see more of his Ulster team-mates pushing into the Ireland squad.
“You look at what Leinster and Munster and Connacht are doing and I think our players are getting better and putting their hands up,” said Best after Ulster’s 44-12 defeat to Racing.
“You look at the likes of Hendy [Iain Henderson] and Jacob [Stockdale], the obvious ones, but [John] Cooney before his injury, I thought the way Marty Moore played in the loose tonight and [Kieran] Treadwell in the loose.
“Obviously, Jordi Murphy is a quality player. Will Addison has been fantastic the last two weeks. So that’s got to be about building.
“We’ve got to get people in there, get international experience and then when you get the tight moments like this [against Racing], the more experience you get at the highest level, the more you don’t let little moments slip by, and the more you realise you’ve got to be in the game every second.”
Best himself feels in good condition heading towards Ireland’s November Test series, having had his return to play this season delayed as he overcame a hamstring issue.
“I know I was late back but I got a good block of work before this. I felt my game was going really well,” said Best.
“I was a wee bit frustrated with some of the set-piece stuff [against Racing]. Look, I don’t think it was all down to me and it’s the same when the lineout goes well, that’s not all down to me. They competed really well and put good pressure on.
“Going into the autumn, we [Ulster] will get one more game now next weekend ahead of the series and I think it’s exciting.”
Best is certain Ulster have made progress early this season under new head coach Dan McFarland but he left Paris a frustrated figure on Saturday night.
“In the first half, they scored off two set-pieces,” said the Ireland skipper. “The scrum that got turned and they went and scored [through Teddy Iribaren], that was really pivotal, and then the lineout that broke to them and they ended up scoring off that [through Wenceslas Lauret].
“You want to be rock solid in all your aspects of the game but sometimes you have bits that aren’t as good as you’d like them to be. You’ve got to have enough about you to scramble and fight and make sure they don’t become seven-pointers.
“There were aspects we’ll be happy with and aspects that probably show the difference between a team that are favourites to win the competition and a team that are trying to take a step forward to get themselves into a position where they win tight games like that.”
The opening two rounds of Heineken Champions Cup fixtures leave Ulster third in Pool 4, with Racing leading the way and Leicester Tigers in second.
Scarlets, surprisingly, are bottom after defeats to Racing and Leicester, meaning the Welsh region will be throwing everything into their December back-to-back ties against Ulster.
“There was a feeling before it that you’ve got to win your home games and get as many points away from home as you can,” said Best of how the pool looks. “I think we had an opportunity here to get at least one point and we haven’t got it.
“We had a couple of opportunities at the end of last week [in their three-try win against Leicester] to get another point, which we didn’t.
“Racing, as number one seeds, look like the team to beat in our pool but at the same time, we have four games now that we feel are four winnable games. Historically, you’ll see that if you can get five out of six or four out of six with some bonus points along the way, you have a chance.
“We have back-to-back games against Scarlets, they’re going to be fighting for their lives and I think, to a certain extent, so are we because we need to get something over there and probably need a win.
“You saw last year that Scarlets lost their first two games and got through. We have to first and foremost make sure that we go back to the Pro14 and take the aspects that were pleasing over the last two weeks, march them forward, and the just look at those little bits of improvement.
“Where we are at this point, especially early in the season, it’s all about trying to improve. It is about trying to put steps forward together.”
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