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Dublin: 9 °C Wednesday 16 October, 2019
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'It was a really special occasion for me to have my family there'

Rory Best played his final game for Ulster at the Kingspan Stadium yesterday.

Image: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

Murray Kinsella reports from Kingspan Stadium

RORY BEST’S KIDS had a few words of advice and reassurance for him during the week, as the Ulster captain prepared to play his final game at Kingspan Stadium before retiring.

His eldest, Ben, asked him when he had first pulled on an Ulster jersey.

Best told him it had been in 1998 when he played for Ulster Schools, only to be a little put out by the reply: 

“He said, ‘Did you know that was the same year Michael Lowry was born?’

“I said, ‘Brilliant Ben, thanks! That’s exactly what I needed to hear when I’m going into a big game unsure about my ankle.’”

Rory Best after the game with his children Best with his three children after Ulster beat Connacht. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

That Ulster’s fullback in yesterday’s Guinness Pro14 quarter-final win over Connacht was the 20-year-old Lowry, born the same year Best was playing for the province’s Schools team, underlines the hooker’s impressive longevity.

Best’s younger son, Richie, simply kept saying that he is going to be a professional rugby player with Ulster and Ireland but that he’s never going to retire.

As for Penny, Best’s daughter, “she just enjoys the camera, I don’t know what she’s going to do when the camera’s not on her next year.”

Best walked led his team out onto the pitch in Kingspan Stadium with his three children alongside him, while they were there at the end too – his wife, Jodie, also present as the 36-year-old bid an emotional farewell.

“They’ve been great and I’ve said a lot about how my wife brings them all to every game,” said Best. “We talked at the time we were having them that we wanted them to be involved, we wanted them to have memories like this.

“Whenever we had our first we thought we’d get him there because we didn’t know how many we were going to have. He’s has had eight years coming here, going to Ireland games, going to Lions games and she’s brought them everywhere.

“I don’t know how she travels places with them, but she does and they have these special moments.

“Family is very important to me and my mum and my dad, my sister was over for this game and my big brother Simon is always there and his kids were on the pitch too.

“It was a really special occasion for me to have my family there and I suppose all you’re hoping is you can end it all with a win.”

Rory Best leaves the field Best's team-mates clap him off the pitch. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

On that front, Best helped to ensure that his Ulster career will have at least one more outing – a trip to Glasgow to face the Warriors in a Pro14 semi-final on 17 May.

The day of his final game at the Kingspan was different but in many ways, it was the same for a man who has played for his province more than 200 times.

“It’s funny the things that get to you. Driving into the stadium, when I leave home you leave in great weather, then you get between Dromore and Hillsborough and the rain starts and that has sort of been my Ulster career at home.

“Ironically enough, I got to Hillsborough today and, right enough, it felt like it was going to start raining. I was going ‘you are kidding me’ and those are the little bits you will miss.”

The weather held out for Best’s last hurrah in Belfast alongside Darren Cave, another stalwart who is retiring at the end of the season, also having played well over 200 times for his native province.

Speaking about the emotional post-match chat in Ulster’s dressing room, Best joked that “it was nice to address the squad and speak a little bit on behalf of Cavey and I because I think if you had let Cavey start, we would still be there.

“Dear knows how many anecdotes he will have at this stage, he loves a story, so thankfully I spoke and we got through it really quickly.”

While there is no doubt that Best and Cave will be remembered as Ulster legends, the Ireland captain stressed that the province will move on quickly without them next season.

“It’ll be, ‘Oh, that’ll be hard to see Rory and Cavey retire’ but ultimately Ulster Rugby will come back at the start of the July and they’ll see how they can be better and very quickly you’ll be forgotten about in the actual team because they need to keep pushing forward.

Rory Best after the game with his wife Jodie Best hugs his wife, Jodie. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

“A young, exciting team only becomes a good or great team if that’s their attitude. It’s sad, you want them to always remember you and they will, but in terms of rugby context, it’ll be ‘Right, who’s next in line?’ And that’s professional rugby.”

But before that, Best and Cave have more to offer.

Two turnovers at the breakdown were the highlights for Best in a 69-minute showing against Connacht yesterday, while Cave made a second-half appearance off the bench.

They will now hope to finish with a Pro14 title with Ulster and Best also has the World Cup to look forward to with Ireland later this year.

“I always said I wanted to go out at the top of my game and the last few years I’ve always tried to be really focused on playing well, no distractions, it’s all about the rugby,” said Best.

“You want to gauge it right and not overstay your welcome and as long as you feel you can still have pivotal moments in the game, then you feel you can still contribute.

“You want to feel that you’re a pivotal face in the team. In fairness to Rob Herring, he’s been fantastic and every time you feel you’re playing well, he plays well and you feel him breathing down your neck.

“The same with Sean Cronin and Niall Scannell in Leinster and Munster. I think while you’re still playing well you want to be a part of it and I have enjoyed trying to get better.

“Even this year after 15 seasons here, I still go out on the training pitch seeing what I can do better because you have to if you want to keep these boys away.”

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Murray Kinsella

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