Rory Best on course to face Montpellier

Ulster's Rory Best and Johann Muller
Ulster's Rory Best and Johann Muller

British Lion hooker, Rory Best, has been given the nod to return to playing for Ulster this weekend, seven weeks after fracturing a bone in his arm.

The talismanic Ulsterman underwent an operation on November 26 after breaking his arm two days earlier when Ireland agonisingly lost 24-22 to New Zealand at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin.

Best had scored a try during the first half, but minutes later left the pitch with the injury.

He had always targeted a return to playing in mid January when Ulster would play their crucial season defining Pool Five games in the Heineken Cup.

It had been thought the first of those - this Friday against Montpellier at Ravenhill - may be a week early with a more realistic target being the away game against Leicester Tigers at Welford Road on Saturday, January 18 - which could potentially be a decider to see which club finishes top of the group and an automatic place in the quarter-finals.

However, the News Letter understands Best saw a specialist on Monday and was given the thumbs up.

Best, who was waterboy for Ulster in the impressive 29-19 win over PRO12 leaders Munster at Ravenhill last Friday night had already returned to training last week.

His return this week will depend on any reaction he has in training, but it was looking positive for him facing the French side in front of a sell-out crowd.

Head coach, Mark Anscombe, was hopeful last week Best may make it, but he two had his fingers crossed the hooker would get the all clear.

It is yet to be seen whether Anscombe would opt to start Best, perhaps looking to use him off the bench on Friday night and start him in the game against Leicester next week.

Rob Herring has deputised well in Best’s absence with third choice hooker, Niall Annett also getting his first Ulster start in December.

Best’s return is a huge boost as will the prospect of having skipper, Johann Muller back in action.

He was withdrawn last week having injured a calf in training.

Like last week he is set to face the media to preview the game on Tuesday afternoon and there will be hopes the second row will not aggravate the calf again in training this week.

Anscombe has close on a full squad to chose from with Paddy Wallace, Tommy Bowe and Stephen Ferris still on the injury list.

It is certainly a good place for the squad to be at going into the next two weeks.

Anscombe said: “It’s pretty good there after the Munster game. There were a couple of sore bodies there is always going to be sore bodies after playing a team like Munster.”

“Chris (Henry) got through his first game in eight weeks.

“He was on longer than we maybe wanted but he got through 65 minutes.

“Henderson got through some game time. Hopefully Rory and Johann might be back and I hope to have a full contingent to pick from.”

There had also been hopes that British Lion winger, Bowe, would make a return this weekend, but Anscombe said it was unlikely.

“He is still working away and it is touch and go at this stage,” said Anscombe, adding: “we have to see how he keeps working.”

Ulster are the only side remaining in this season’s Heineken Cup with a 100 per cent record.

A win over Montpellier in Belfast on Friday night would leave them going to Welford Road and seeking a win which would secure a home draw in the last eight.