Rory Best was stating the obvious when he said the Guinness PRO12 is now down to knock-out rugby.
Ahead of tomorrow afternoon’s mouth-watering inter-provisional clash with Leinster at a sold-out Kingspan Stadium, Best cannot even contemplate defeat given the precarious position Ulster are in.
Ulster (60 points) are currently in fourth spot, six adrift of third-placed Glasgow but just two points ahead of fifth-placed Scarlets.
Victory against fierce rivals Leinster, who edge out Connacht at the top on points difference, and Ospreys in their final game, who are down in ninth, will guarantee a play-off slot at least. Depending on other results, it could get even better.
But it is definitely a win or bust scenario for Best and company tomorrow and then they will see what transpires.
“We said it before the Connacht game probably, in public and definitely within the squad, it’s effectively knockout rugby for us right now,” said the Ireland captain.
“We’ve managed to chip off two recently, and in doing that teams have faltered a little around us. That has at least put us in the top four and when you get to this stage of the season with two games left all you can ask for is to have it in your own destiny.
Best insists Leinster have so much talent available, it’s important not to focus too keenly on their opponents.
“We’ll have to concentrate a lot on ourselves and have to stop them at the gain line and be very physical about that. But ultimately when we get our chances we have to be clinical with them because when you look at their defence, apart from a blip against Edinburgh, they do not concede many tries. So you have to work for your opportunities and then take them. We also need to make sure that defensively we’re really, really strong and then take our chances when they’re there. Set-piece is vital and if we can control the ball then we can control the tempo and dictate the pace with Leinster. Whereas if we give it up, especially in turnovers, they don’t tend to give it back very easily and they will ultimately punish you.”
Best believes Ulster should have come away with a victory at the RDS in November when Leinster squeezed home 8-3 through a strong effort up-front.
“We know Devin (Toner) really well and he’s running their lineout and I think their stats with and without him are significantly different. So for us, we’ve got to make sure we’re rock solid there and at the scrum where they came at us at the RDS earlier in the season.
“When we look back at the run we went on post that game in Dublin, and I know we ended up losing to Munster, but that Leinster game was a kind of turning point for us.
“I think we played with a lot of ambition and we took that into the Toulouse games in Europe and went on a bit of a run with fast, open rugby which suited us down to the ground as we’re not a massive pack and not a massive team.
“We took a lot of belief and confidence from it into those European games and the tail-end of the year and into January.
“Leinster, of all teams, deserve a lot of respect and we give them that,” he said.
“But we will not give them any more than we give any other opposition that comes to Belfast.
“We will do our homework, do your research, get our game plan together, we will spend a lot of time getting things right, then hopefully put it into practice.”
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