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Dan Sheridan/INPHO Former Ireland and Ulster captain Rory Best.
# On the ladder
Rory Best using new Seattle role to test his appetite for a life in coaching
The former Ireland and Ulster hooker has joined the MLR side until the end of the 2021 season.

NEWS THAT RORY Best would be joining Major League Rugby’s Seattle Seawolves in a coaching role might have been met with some surprise last week, but in reality the move has been brewing for some time.

It began with a couple of phone calls. Best was friendly with a brother of Adrian Balfour, a Fermanagh native who part-owns the MLR franchise. What Best describes as “kickabout” conversations eventually led to Balfour floating the idea of coming on board to do some technical consulting work with the team’s coaches.   

The idea piqued Best’s interest.

“For the last few weeks really, I’ve been getting their games and going through them, coding them on SportsCode [performance analysis software], and looking at them in a way that I would have looked at an Ireland or an Ulster game in terms of, ‘Right, what was good, what was bad, what habits aren’t good?’ And looking at a bit of their training,” Best explains.

“Then I’ll give a presentation to their coaches every Tuesday night, just to go look, this is what you should be looking for. Then (answering) any questions that they will have around anything. They are quite inexperienced coaches they have there, and the results haven’t been great.”

So far, so good. Then last week Best’s phone buzzed again. It was Allen Clarke, the former Ulster hooker who got to know Best during his time as a coach with the province.

Clarke joined MLR side Dallas Jackals as director of rugby last year, but with the club recently postponing their debut season until 2022, he found his schedule freed up. Clarke was granted permission to join the Seawolves as technical coach until the end of the 2021 season, and wanted Best to play a more prominent role in the coaching team.

joe-schmidt-and-rory-best-after-the-game Dan Sheridan / INPHO Best with former Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt. Dan Sheridan / INPHO / INPHO

The former Ulster and Ireland captain’s new job description says he will help build elite player skills and capabilities.

The room for improvement in that department is clear. Seattle lost four of their five games before last year’s MLR season was shelved, and boast the same return five games into the current campaign.

“It’s been quite good for me,” Best says.

“A couple of the sections I’ve done with Seattle over the last few weeks, I sent through to Clarkey with all the notes on them, and he’s given me (feedback), almost like a teacher marking the homework.

“I look at a clip and there could be 20 things where you go, ‘Well, they could do that better.’ Then it’s getting him to go, look, you really need to channel it down, and I know myself as a player, not more than three, maybe five (examples) for the really advanced players, or they’re not going to take it in. It’s (about) how you find those.”

Best is currently doing the job remotely, and doesn’t yet know when, or if, he will be able to travel to Seattle. 

He also hopes the job provides some clarity about what he hopes to do going forward. Best has previously worked with the Ulster Academy in a mentoring role, but admits he still isn’t sure he’s willing to commit himself to a major job in the game, given the pressure and commitments that come as part of the package.

“They’ve given me the opportunity to dip my toe in the water under my terms, where I still get to do the stuff I’ve been building up off the field, like the likes of this (media) stuff, the farming stuff I can still do, spending time with the family, playing a bit of golf, but I can also be involved in rugby.

I hope that it will give me a bit of a feel for whether I want to let rugby dominate my life again. And look, I know the worst coaches that I’ve had as past players, they’ve felt it was an extension of their playing career. They wanted the days off on a Wednesday and they wanted the weekends after games free, whereas the best coaches were the ones that worked and understood that it was a different way, and that you had to be prepared and you had to put the work in beforehand. 

“So the thing for me is, am I ready to go back to that kind of full-on rugby? This will give me an idea. You know, I could do it in two or three hours (a week) if I wanted to, or I could spend more time on it and even being out to do more stuff with them (in Seattle) when the time is right, that will give me a feel for how involved in rugby I want to be.

“That’s the big thing for me. I kind of volunteered a bit with the Ulster Academy because I was friendly with Kieran Campbell, and I sort of wanted to help him out, but there actually wasn’t many opportunities, especially an opportunity like this where I almost got to dictate a little bit what I did.”

Closer to home, Best is hoping to see Ulster take another step towards winning a first trophy in 15 years when they take on Leicester Tigers in their Challenge Cup semi-final on Friday night.

Of course the province would rather be battling for silverware in the top tier of European Rugby, but after years of false dawns and heartbreaking defeats, Best believes that reaching the Challenge Cup final would represent a major step in the right direction for the province.

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“It would be massive. You don’t where it might be the catalyst to go somewhere if they win a trophy in terms of, you’ve got everyone, every year talks about 2006 (Pro14 title, Ulster’s last trophy). It was three years (since they last won), then five years, 10 years… You know, it’s a long time now.

“It might just get a monkey off their back.”

The Tigers have struggled for form this season and sit eighth in the Premiership table, having lost nine of their 17 games so far. 

“I do think Leicester have steadied the ship a little bit in the last couple of months, but they are still quite inconsistent,” Best continues.

“Not just in results, but in what they are delivering, and I think if Ulster can get it right I think they can exploit that. Leicester will still look at that game against Connacht last week and think that if you get Ulster into a bit of gainline arm-wrestle, and you don’t let them have it their own way, that they can still really, really trouble them.

“So Leicester will look at it and go, there’s a chance, they’re at home and all of that. But I do think Ulster have too much firepower for them if they can get their parity up front.”

Former Ireland rugby captain Rory Best has teamed up with Specsavers to support its Healthy Hearing campaign, which encourages people to take a proactive approach to their hearing health as one in six Irish adults is affected by hearing loss. For more information, visit www.specsavers.ie/hearing 

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