Ulster skipper Rory Best insists the future is bright

Rory Best addresses the Ulster players after they ended the season with a crucial win over Ospreys
Best addressed the Ulster players after they ended the season with a crucial win over Ospreys

Ulster captain Rory Best has insisted the club's future is bright, despite a challenging season.

In a statement on the club's website thanking fans for their support, Best praised the squad's character.

The message comes at the end of a season in which Ulster missed out on the Pro14 play-offs and only secured a European Champions Cup place after a play-off victory over Ospreys.

Sunday's 35-17 win marked the end of head coach Jono Gibbes' Kingspan reign.

Dan McFarland has been appointed as his successor, but it is not clear when he will be released from his current role as Scotland forwards coach.

When news of McFarland's appointment emerged in April, the Scottish RFU said he would not be leaving them until January 2019.

Gibbes insists no sour taste over Ulster exit

Ulster beat Ospreys to seal Champions Cup place

Ireland captain Best's message was published on behalf of the playing group.

"While it would be easy to look back on the season with some negativity, I would like to share some of the positives that I've witnessed," said Best.

"I would like to pay tribute to my team mates for their fight and spirit throughout.

"To finish the season unbeaten in our last five games is testament to the character and quality of the players and I couldn't be prouder of them.

Ulster winger Andrew Trimble has retired
Ulster winger Andrew Trimble has retired after a career during which he made 70 appearances for Ireland

"It's been pleasing to see so many of my team mates grow and develop as players and leaders over the past 12 months.

"As a senior player, it is exciting to see that the future is extremely bright for Ulster Rugby."

The captain said he was looking forward to new arrivals on the playing and coaching staff at the Kingspan Stadium in the summer.

"We've had eight Academy players experience first team rugby this season and we have a record number of players representing Ireland at under-age level," he continued.

"Having secured Champions Cup qualification, we will start pre-season with enthusiasm and confidence, and we look forward to welcoming some quality players and coaches into the set-up during the summer."

The hooker, who missed Sunday's win over Ospreys through injury, also paid tribute to the group of players leaving Ulster.

"I would like to take this opportunity to recognise the contribution of some great servants to Ulster Rugby who will bid farewell this summer, in particular Andrew Trimble, Paul Marshall, Robbie Diack, Tommy Bowe, Callum Black and Norman Pollock," added Best.

"I wish them and their families all the best for the future."