Ulster hooker Rory Best didn’t hide his delight at being back in Thomond Park for a media engagement last week.
It was his first visit to the stadium since his province’s Heineken Cup quarter-final victory over their Munster hosts on April 8 — an afternoon Best admits will be “one of the big memories of my club career”.
That win, and the manner in which it was achieved, will be a major building block in the preparations for the European decider against Leinster at Twickenham on May 19.
“It was a fantastic day,” Best smiled. “The atmosphere and the crowd were all we thought they would be and more. We’re under no illusions. You need your fair share of luck in this competition and we got bits and pieces of it and were defensively strong enough to hold out. You know you’ve earned it when you’ve beaten a team like Munster at Thomond Park.
“From speaking to friends and family and supporters, they couldn’t speak highly enough of the crowd, how gracious they were in defeat, how everyone was wished well. They felt we deserved it on the day and wanted us to go on and do well. It’s sport and you’re going to be competitive and you’re going to want to win but when you don’t, you also have to take it on the chin. We got a great ovation at the end.
“It will be one of the big memories of my club career.”
Ulster’s performance overcoming Edinburgh in the semi-final was much more laboured when compared to their stellar showing down south.
Best agreed, but made no apologies.
He explained: “The game against Edinburgh was always going to be a tough one as we were massive favourites. We played to make sure we didn’t lose it rather than going out to win it. A few weeks earlier we came to Thomond Park and went out with the bit between our teeth to win.
“Against Munster, we took a few risks, we defended well. But we didn’t do a lot of that against Edinburgh. But as the Munster boys will tell you, and they know this better than anyone, nobody remembers whether you won the semi-final by one point or 50. We’re in the final and that’s the key thing. Leinster are massive favourites because they’re a quality team.
“We lost to them at home a few weeks ago but we take a lot of heart from what we learned that day. We were missing a few players and have a lot of self-belief and confidence in our team. We had to have it (that confidence) to come here and get a result and to not be beaten before we started. We will go about the Leinster game in a similar fashion.”
Best accepts that South African scrum-half Ruan Pienaar is vital to Ulster’s cause.
“When you sign world-class players, you’re going to get world-class performances and that’s what we’ve had from Ruan in the last two rounds in Europe. Allied to that, he’s a great guy who knows it’s a team game. Now, he’s getting all the plaudits and rightly so but he’s more than happy to be sitting at scrum-half behind a decent pack with a decent back line outside him.
“There are pros and cons to knowing so much about Leinster. We know what to expect to a certain extent and we also know there are going to be surprises but the flip side is that they know us too.
“It will be one of those occasions where you’ve got to go and enjoy the spectacle but remember that it’s just a game and not to be too overawed, to start well and settle into the game. If we can be clinical and ruthless, we can lift that trophy.”
* Rory Best was speaking as part of the Bushmills Brothers campaign
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