ULSTER COACH MARK ANSCOMBE has praised the professionalism of Rory Best, who has put personal disappointment to one side to focus on winning the Pro12 title with his provincial teammates.
Best admitted last week that ‘it is going to take a long time to get completely over’ his exclusion from Warren Gatland’s Lions squad to tour Australia this summer. The hooker started for Ulster in their 37-13 win over Cardiff at the weekend, which ensured them a home semi-final against Scarlets on Friday. Best, the man who has secured the most turnovers in this year’s Heineken Cup, received a rapturous send-off from the Ravenhill crowd when he was replaced in the closing stages.
Anscombe told TheScore.ie, “Rory, I suppose, was on everyone’s British & Irish Lions Tour [squad] and, for some reason unbeknownst to most, he’s not. Sometimes, having been in rooms when your select national sides, and so forth, you need someone in there fighting your case. He didn’t have someone in there, where a couple of other guys did.”
“No-one knew how to break the news,” the New Zealander added. “It was tough on Tommy [Bowe, who was selected] because you wanted to be able to celebrate with one while it is hurting one other [person]. But, true to the professional he is, he bounced back and came to training the next day, was energetic and vibrant… he wants to finish the season on a high.”
The major injury worry for Ulster, ahead of Friday’s semi with Simon Easterby’s Scarlets, is prop John Afoa, who went off after 20 minutes with a tight hamstring. Anscombe revealed, “He had some trouble with it before the game so, being the true professional that he is, he thought it would be precautionary to get off as soon as possible.
Will he be ready for next weekend? Don’t know; too early to tell. By coming off when he did, he has given himself the best chance to play.”
Captain Johann Muller was ‘pleased’ to finish atop the league standings following a mid-season blip. He paid credit to young squad players such as Peter Nelson and Stuart Olding who have stepped up to fine effect for Anscombe and his coaching staff.
Muller commented, “We went through a tough little patch, just after the new year. At one stage there was 23, 24 guys unavailable through injury or international call-ups. From a squad perspective it is fantastic. There are guys playing well now that, at the beginning of the season, were not in the plans. Not even close. All of a sudden they are in the starting line-up and playing some outstanding rugby.”
Muller added that Scarlets shock 41-17 loss to Treviso at Parc Y Scarlets should have no bearing come kick-off on Friday. He said, “They’ve got some good players in their side and have done remarkably well in the last six weeks but we are exactly where we want to be. At home at a packed out Ravenhill.”
*Additional reporting by Megan Joyce of The Front Row Union.