Rory Best back as reshuffled Ulster face French aristocrats Toulouse

Rory Best returns to lead Ulster in their Champions Cup clash against French giants Toulouse at the Kingspan Stadium this evening.

Best, who was rested for last week’s encouraging 14-7 win over Edinburgh, is one of seven changes to face the four-times champions.

Louis Ludik, Craig Gilroy, Stuart McCloskey are back in the starting back-line, while Alan O’Connor gets his first start of the season at lock for the injured Dan Tuohy. Nick Williams and Robbie Diack join Chris Henry in the back row.

Best, who will be making his 174th appearance for Ulster, is wary of the visitors’ history: “Toulouse are still the top team for winning trophies in Europe and if you look at their performances last year, they were a little bit patchy in the Top 14 and that carried into their European performances. But they are doing well this season, lying joint second with Toulon, so they are really going well. You look at their team, they’ve top players throughout.

“That have such quality in depth that they can play any style of rugby,” said Best, who stressed that the next seven weeks could define Ulster’s season with four European games and two big inter-provincials against Connacht and Leinster with Newport Gwent Dragons thrown in as well. “Louis Picamoles will give them go-forward ball. Yes, French rugby is associated with flair and so on, but a lot of it starts in their back row.

“And when we get the ball, we have to make sure we shield it, as Theirry Dusautoir is one of, if not the best, number sevens over the ball if you are not quick enough at the break down to shift him.

“It’s going to be a tough seven weeks. But it gives us a good run at things. We need to make sure we are not walking away from the fact that it is a results-driven business.

“We sometimes have to take a look at the bigger picture in that if we produce the performances the results will come. Having said that, a 3-0 victory tonight and 3-0 for the other games in that seven-game block would be good. But ultimately we need to get better week-on-week to be able to peak at the end of the season. Hopefully it’s not like other Ulster teams that peak at Christmas and then hang on.”

Best believes the win over Edinburgh last week will lift his side.

“It was a good team performance and there’s no doubt that while it was a seven-point margin, we felt it was more. We looked particularly good in the second half where we were always in control. We had a try disallowed and we felt we created enough chances to score a couple more, so that has probably created a knock-on effect going into this evening.

“It wasn’t nice losing a couple of games in a row, particularly at home like in that Saracens game. So it was nice to get that win for our own belief.”

While international commitments mean Ireland squad members must follow player welfare protocols, Best would prefer to play every week.

“It is frustrating I suppose. You have plans in place to rest boys based around the Oyonnax game, that obviously didn’t happen. All of a sudden you sort of wait five weeks to play as in my case then you have two games in a row and then you have to rest again as there is a strict quota that needs to be filled before the Six Nations. You kind of just have to live with it. The problem is you just want to play every week.”

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