12 Dec, 14:42
Prop Cian Healy is expected to miss the start of the 2014 RBS 6 Nations after undergoing surgery on his injured ankle on Wednesday.
Having helped Ireland go unbeaten through the Guinness Autumn Series, fiery flanker Neil Best is back in the white of his beloved Ulster tonight as the league champions entertain Leinster.
Best has dubbed the all-ticket provincial showdown (Ravenhill, kick-off 7.30pm) "a massive occasion" and "a chance for revenge" as Michael Cheika's Leinster outfit achieved a notable double over Ulster last season.
"They beat us home and away last year which was disappointing so it's a chance to get some revenge," admitted the 27-year-old Best, who now boasts seven Ireland caps.
"The next four games (in the Magners League and Heineken Cup) are crucial for us and it was this time last year that we fell down a bit. We can't let that happen this time around and we're doing our very best not to."
Best knows that his side face a tough task in maintaining their excellent home form - they have won all ten of their home league fixtures so far in 2006.
Leinster, the last team to beat Ulster in the league in Belfast (24-19 last December), have won the last six matches they have played against their fellow provinces in the league, and Cheika has an almost fully-fit squad.
Having got to know his Irish team-mates better in recent weeks, Best is relishing the chance to test his tackling skills out on the likes of Brian O'Driscoll and Gordon D'Arcy.
"Drico (O'Driscoll) and Darce (D'Arcy) are world class players so it is nice to play with them and it's good to play against them too, because you get to see what it is like for other teams.
"You don't really know how good these players are because you're always with them but Saturday night is a chance for me to be on the receiving end and them to be on the receiving end of me."
Australia's Lote Tuqiri, Rocky Elsom and Phil Waugh certainly know what that is like - the trio were left shaken and stirred when they encountered the hard-hitting Best at Lansdowne Road last month.
...Best back in training with the Ulster squad this week...
The big 'hits' are all just part of the Belfast man's job - he sees making tackles as "his bread and butter" work.
"I am just doing what I am paid to do," he acknowledged. "If I was missing tackles then I would be straight off the park. And that's the way it should be.
"I shouldn't be getting praise for doing my job. As for Gordon and Brian, these guys are world class players and you have to make sure you tackle them well and that goes for a lot of Leinster's back line players.
"I respect them enough to throw everything I have at them. I know if I don't I am going to look stupid."
Always looking to improve his game, Best has shunned a lot of the praise, from his fellow players and the media, that came his way in the aftermath of Ireland's autumn wins over South Africa and Australia.
Exciting times as they may be, Best's sole focus is on the next game, the next challenge and developing himself into being a better player - and that means putting in the work, something he has never been afraid to do.
"Things were good (during the autumn internationals) but there were also some areas for me to work on. I'm a firm believer in continually developing and not being pigeon-holed as a certain type of player," he conceded.
"There are other skills I need to work on and I just want to build a game where I am producing an all-round performance. Not just good in defence or good carrying, but also good in the lineout, good handling, things like that."