Rory Best’s rallying cry sets tone for remarkable Ulster revival

Les Kiss and Paddy Jackson hail captain’s influence in dressingroom at half-time

Ulster players celebrate victory over Oyonnax in the Champions Cup. Photograph: Darren Kidd/Presseye/Inpho

Ulster players celebrate victory over Oyonnax in the Champions Cup. Photograph: Darren Kidd/Presseye/Inpho

 

Ulster salvaged their own qualification hopes and with it Irish pride in the European Champions Cup on Oyonnax’s rain-soaked 4G surface in the Rhône-Alpes region of eastern France, but had they not backed up their brace of wins over Toulouse this really would have been the one that got away.

Reflecting with relief as much as pride after Ulster’s great escape was prompted by resorting to their first-choice 8-9-10 combination, Les Kiss admitted: “I think what we saw in the second half is more indicative of where we are, but what we saw in the first-half tells us that we’ve a lot more growing to do as a team. We have to mature.”

Admitting that it was as much a mental problem as anything else, he added: “We were a little bit off the mark. Well, I’m being kind; we were well off the mark and it was very disappointing.”

Strong lines

Yet, prompted by the Ruan Pienaar-Paddy Jackson combination, there could be immense satisfaction in the way the team rallied and then had the composure to complete a famous comeback. “What Ruan and Jacko delivered in that second-half was brilliant,” enthused Kiss. “Luke Marshall, Stu McCloskey again; all these nice, heavy, strong lines that give us space. Scholesy [Rory Scholes] was really good on the edge there.”

Maintaining that there was “a genuine belief that we could do it,” Kiss added: “Hat’s off to Besty [Rory Best]. He was superb at half-time as a captain. To get that result is great. The other one I should mention is Kyle McCall, he just doesn’t disappoint you.”

Kiss revealed that the interval turnaround was about equally attributable to the coaches’ problem-solving as it was to Best’s speech. “It was probably 50-50, the thrust had to be a reality-check and, to a man, they said this is not good enough.

“There had to be a bit of emotion in it, but the emotion had to be attached to the fact that, if we run the plays like we know we can, if people are switched on and do their job . . . we had to make the commitment emotionally to do it, but we also had to tighten up technically and tactically.

“They were stoic in the second-half too, they kept holding us up. Just to be relentlessly patient in our game still paid off for us. To see Paddy [Jackson] step up with such confidence to nail that was a big plus as well. He’s certainly growing as a very, very good fly-half. He’s only just begun really.”

If Jackson was the hero, in a sense, coming on at 23-0 down clarified the picture for him. “It almost took a bit of pressure off,” the outhalf admitted. “I just had to run the ball but to be fair to Rory [Best] the way he got the boys rallied in the changing room at half-time was something special. I’ve never been in a situation like that before where we’ve been so far behind and to see Rory get the boys going was something pretty special to watch.”

Jackson also gave an insight into the gist of Best’s impassioned rallying call. “There were a few heads down, looking at the floor, and I can’t repeat some of the words he actually used, but you could see the fire in his eyes and how much this club means to him, and how big this game was. He’s been talking about history all week and I think it’s the first time we’ve won in France twice in one season.

“Look, we just said we’re going to have to go out and win. We’ve got 40 minutes to do it, and with a lot more swear words,” he said, chuckling.

He could also be sanguine about his own heroics, after missing a difficult late penalty in the defeat at home to Munster last week.

Struggled

“I struggled a bit last week. Obviously the footing here is a lot different, much firmer here to what it was like in Kingspan. It’s something I’ve come to learn that I’m going to be in these situations more often. So if I get them, it’s obviously brilliant, but if not then one minute you’re the hero, one minute you’re the bad guy, so I was just delighted to get it.”

Looking ahead to their rendezvous away to Saracens next Saturday, Jackson said: “We’re definitely going to look at the first-half and obviously there’s a lot to work on from last week and this week, so going to Saracens it’s obviously going to be a huge task.

“The way they embarrassed us at home the last time is going to be something we’ll want to remedy.”

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