Rory Best: Ex-Ireland captain criticises Ulster CEO Jonny Petrie over pre-match pitch tweet

Rory Best: Ex-Ireland captain criticises Ulster CEO Jonny Petrie over pre-match pitch tweet

Jonny Petrie (left) took over as Ulster CEO in 2018

Rory Best has criticised Ulster CEO Jonny Petrie for tweeting his frustration with the venue change for Saturday evening’s Heineken Champions Cup defeat by La Rochelle.

European Professional Club Rugby moved the match from Ulster’s Kingspan Stadium to Dublin’s Aviva Stadium.

Early on Saturday, Petrie said Kingspan’s pitch, which had been frozen, was playable.

He tweeted: “Frustrated doesn’t even come close to covering how I feel”.

“That fight was done,” former Ulster and Ireland captain Best said on this week’s Ulster Rugby Show.

“The two teams were at the Aviva, or on Saturday morning at 9.30, Ulster were leaving to go to the Aviva. I don’t think that the CEO should have been tweeting about it during that day.

“If you are a player and you are reading that, and you are already in a place where you are feeling a bit sorry for yourself, that to me adds fuel to that, whereas it should have been [on] Saturday going ‘do you know what, we will beat them wherever we play them, it doesn’t matter’.

“And then come eight o’clock on Saturday night, it is going ‘this was a disgrace’. Sunday, Monday and you fight the whole way through.”

‘Ulster went out feeling sorry for themselves’

The EPCR has said an investigation is being conducted into the events which led to the European encounter being played at a behind-closed-doors Aviva.

The statement added that Ulster, who lost the match 29-36 against the competition’s defending champions, have been requested to co-operate fully.

In a BBC Radio Ulster interview soon after posting the tweet, Petrie said switching the game to Dublin would cost the province around £700,000, adding that the EPCR should have either waited until Saturday morning to make a call on the Kingspan pitch or put the match back to Sunday.

Saturday’s defeat by Ronan O’Gara’s French side followed a 39-0 loss away to Sale in their European opener, when Ulster’s planned flight to Manchester the day before the game was cancelled because of snow, meaning they had to fly on matchday.

Having earlier suggested Ulster should be chartering flights to big away matches, Best was also critical of the EPCR’s handling of Saturday’s game but felt Petrie’s tweet was a factor in a poor first-half showing that saw Ulster trailing 29-0 at the break.

“I think that the way European Rugby dealt with Ulster and this thing is a disgrace,” he said.

“I think the other thing to say is that there was probably a bit of fault on both sides. To not have the pitch ready… We talk about the budget to charter a flight but how many times are we going to talk about this pitch?

“And for nothing to be done about it… That should be the first two things to go into your budget [pitch maintenance and travel costs] because it cost them dearly.”

He added: “I felt that part of the first half was that Ulster went out feeling sorry for themselves. Credit to [head coach] Dan McFarland and Hendy [captain Iain Henderson], I presume, in particular.

“That is leadership, to go in at half-time and to slightly change the tactics. To go ‘it is us against them, it doesn’t matter where we are playing’. To me, that was a real positive.”

Connacht will see Ulster as ‘there for the taking’ – Bowe

With the two European defeats for Dan McFarland’s men following a crushing 38-29 loss away to Leinster after they had led 22-3, it has been a chastening December for a side who were in good form before the Leinster game.

They have a chance to respond when they return to European Rugby Championship action in an interprovincial derby away to Connacht on Friday night – but former Ulster wing Tommy Bowe told The Ulster Rugby Show that the hosts will be in a confident mood.

“It is a massive opportunity this weekend,” Bowe said.

“Connacht are a team that will be confident. They will have seen the last few performances from Ulster and will be thinking they are there for the taking.

“It is really important that Ulster build on that second half [against La Rochelle] and there is no better opportunity than to have an interpro against a side that they know so, so well.

“And there are a lot of internationals, so there are all of these little battles between the two of them.”

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