Kiss picks Best to lead revamped Ulster

Ireland’s most-capped hooker, Rory Best, has been handed the captaincy of Ulster for a second time.

Kiss picks Best to lead revamped Ulster

He takes the role following the retirement of Springbok Johann Muller, and is the choice of the Province’s Interim Director of Rugby, Les Kiss.

Best skippered Ulster for four seasons from 2007, and he feels he may be better-prepared for the role after stepping down in 2011 to concentrate on his own game. Best has played 152 for Ulster and has been an enthusiastic supporter of the appointment of assistant Ireland coach Kiss following the exit of Mark Anscombe and David Humphreys. The pair have worked closely at national level and will hope to replicate the success Ireland has had in terms of Pro 12 and European Champions Cup success this season.

Best is acutely aware of the expectation levels at Ulster, and after four years when Pro 12 and Heineken Cup success was tantalisingly within touching distance he’ll want a clear focus on the very clear and challenging demands Kiss and his assistants, Jonny Bell and Neil Doak, have set out for a revamped squad.

Lock Muller, props John Afoa and Tom Court have moved on, centre Paddy Wallace also retired after a record-breaking spell at the club, while flanker Stephen Ferris finally admitted defeat after a brave battle to regain fitness.

There have been some important additions to the squad, but it’s to the marque ‘names’ that Best and Kiss will look again for a good start. Jared Payne, now qualified for Ireland, and Ruan Pienaar will play key roles, and Paddy Jackson, Luke Marshall, Darren Cave, Chris Henry and Nick Williams are seasoned internationals to whom Best will turn to ask for consistent, winning performances which will fill the new state-of-the-art stadium in Belfast.

In Europe, Leicester, the Scarlets and mighty Toulon await in the pool stages of the Champions’ Cup, while the Guinness Pro 12 campaign gets underway next month and remains a top priority for the management and players.

And a fully-fit Tommy Bowe will be a real bonus for Ulster and the returning skipper.

The tall, affable lad from Emyvale in Monaghan is universally regarded as one of the most lethal three-quarters in world rugby, his time away from Ulster with the gilded Ospreys only adding to his lustrous reputation.

When he returned to Ravenhill — now the Kingspan Stadium — and Ulster in the summer of 2012 the signing was hailed as a real coup for the club, home fans hailing the return that of the gifted prodigal son.

“I made a hard decision, but one I think was right, when I went to Wales,” Bowe says now. “I wanted to play at the very highest level with the very best players, but the one thing I didn’t do was win the trophies I wanted on my CV. Coming back to Ulster was great, but there’s no doubt that I feel I still have to give a lot more to give. I’ve had a cycle of injuries which, although it’s part and parcel of professional sport, has been so frustrating, and I’ve too often been on the sidelines while the lads have been chasing silverware.”

His immediate target is a return to the Ulster starting fifteen, and with Less Kiss in charge after the management turmoil of the summer Bowe is enthusiastic about his and the side’s prospects. Off the field life is good. He got engaged to long-time girlfriend Lucy Whitehouse in April, and he and the former Miss Wales – they met in 2011 when he played for the Ospreys – have a wedding to organise, and he feigns horror at the planning that will entail. And the World Cup in the autumn of 2015? “We’ll let that look after itself, it’ll all be good!” And, resplendent in his club’s new kit for the season Tommy Bowe hurries good-naturedly away.

“I haven’t eaten, I really have to get something. I’m not good when I’m hungry.”

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