Hooker Rory Best is hoping to return from injury for Ulster within the next two weeks, meaning that he could be back in time for the first of the province’s back-to-back Heineken Cup clashes with Northampton Saints on Friday, December 7.
Rory Best has been sidelined for province and country since suffering a neck injury during Ulster’s RaboDirect PRO12 win over the Dragons exactly a month ago.
The ligament damage forced Best to miss the GUINNESS Series with Ireland, but he is set to prove his fitness for the resumption of the Heineken Cup next month.
Hoping to return for the Pool 4 showdown with Northampton at Franklin’s Gardens on Friday, December 7, he told BBC Northern Ireland: “The injury is coming on well – it’s just like any ligament, it just needs a bit of time and rest.
“It’s got that now, we’ve trained it the last two weeks pretty hard. Hopefully in the next while, it should come on a lot and I’ll be back playing hopefully in the next two weeks.”
Best is no stranger to neck problems. He missed a considerable chunk of 2009/10 season due to a serious neck injury. It required surgery to remove a disc and his neck had to be stabilised with a bone graft from his hip.
His impressive powers of recovery, aided by the intensive input of (strength and conditioning coach) Jonny Davis and the Ulster and Ireland medical staff, had him back playing by the following February.
“When you have an injury in an area where you previously had an injury you do get a little concerned,” admitted the Banbridge clubman, speaking on the first day of Ravenhill’s latest phase of redevelopment work.
“But the good thing about this (injury) is we’ve done all the X-rays and the MRIs. The bone graft I had in 2009 looks perfect.
“The surgeon is very happy with that. That’s reassuring and it’s a bit of a positive for me from that point of view.”
In Best’s injury-enforced absence, both Ulster and Ireland have had reasonably positive Novembers with Mark Anscombe’s men making it 11 wins on the trot by scrambling past Italian sides Zebre and Benetton Treviso.
Some of the 30-year-old’s provincial colleagues also starred for Ireland during the GUINNESS Series, from new caps Iain Henderson and Craig Gilroy to Chris Henry who had starts against both South Africa and Argentina.
Asked what it has been like keeping a watching brief, Best conceded: “It’s been difficult. i think if you ask any of us, none of us are particularly good watchers of rugby because you want to be out there playing.
“Ulster…while they weren’t two of our best performances, it is eight points. Come the end of the season, nobody will be asking how you got the eight points in Italy – the big thing is we went there and got them.
“There are teams that will go to both Zebre and Treviso and not win. We’ve got the results now, obviously we’ll have to take a look at the areas we need to improve in.
“Watching the Ireland games, the Ulster boys especially over the last two to three weeks have been brilliant. It was great seeing almost an entire Ulster back-line scoring against Fiji and looking so confident. It can only be good for Ulster.”
One particular Ulster player has commanded plenty of attention since his memorable Test debut for Ireland against Argentina on Saturday afternoon.
Following up on his hat-trick heroics against Fiji, Craig Gilroy announced himself to the wider rugby world by bursting through the Pumas defence for an 11th minute try.
Best watched with admiration as Gilroy looked right at home on Ireland’s left wing and his advice for the Belfast-born flyer is to enjoy every minute of it.
“Young players, especially young backs, need a bit of a swagger about them. Craig has got that but he’s also a fairly grounded individual for someone that’s scored a try on his international debut,” explained the 62-times capped forward.
“He scored five tries in two non-competitive games for Ireland before that, so there’s going to be a lot of attention on him now.
“We’re a fairly good squad, a fairly grounded squad. But at the same time you’ve got to enjoy dream debuts like that. That’s what it’s all about.
“To start for your country at home, to win, to score 40 points and to score the first try…you have to give the kid time to enjoy that. If you can’t enjoy that, it’s not worth playing rugby.”