Not over yet

Best leaving retirement call on hold, but would dearly love to bow out with a trophy

The Ireland and Ulster hooker knows it will take a momentous 80-minute effort for Ulster to take down Leinster at the Aviva.

SATURDAY WILL MARK Rory Best’s 75th European Cup appearance with Ulster and he is not yet prepared to deny himself the opportunity to hit 80 next season.

Rory Best Best aims a line-out during his first season. INPHO INPHO

The hooker will turn 37 before this year’s World Cup and he admitted earlier this month that he will bow out of the international game in Japan.

For some players, that might be a natural time to hang up the boots altogether. His predecessor as Ireland captain and hooker, Keith Wood, is just one example who chose that finale.

However, by the time the Webb Ellis Cup is lifted, Best will already have the dreaded pre-season training behind him and he may feel that the six months to the end of Ulster’s 2019/20 season is worth sticking around for.

“I think it was the right time with Ireland. The World Cup was a really good goal for me,” Best said after training at Kingspan Stadium yesterday.

“It’s not just the games, it’s the preparation and everything that goes with it. In terms of Ulster, we haven’t had the conversation.

“I wanted to get back here and get settled in again and just see how things are going. I’ll have the conversation with Dan (McFarland) and Bryn (Cunningham) and see what everyone wants to do.

“It’s not something I’ve thought much about. Because the contract was up to the World Cup, I thought it was the right time to answer the question on that. But I’m not even sure on (Ulster future) myself.”

Rory Best after the game Bloodied, not bowed. Tommy Dickson / INPHO Tommy Dickson / INPHO / INPHO

Best has been a tremendous servant to Ulster.He has never set his standards or targets for the province low, nor has he shied away from speaking about his desire to lift silverware for the Ravenhill faithful to celebrate. If that came to pass this season, then maybe that would be the early curtain-closer Best would accept.

“When I do retire, I’d love to go out lifting a trophy,” he says with a laugh after the potential irony of the silverware arriving after he bowed out is brought up.

But when I do (retire), I’ll be an Ulster fan. If I go and see them lift a trophy – I’d be severely pissed off if it was fairly soon (after retirement) – but you can still feel that you were part of a turning point.”

Prizes have proven elusive, there’s no escaping the 13-year-old dust in the northern province’s trophy cabinet. However much Ulster have improved this season after last year’s low ebbs there is still some way to go for them to prove themselves contenders for the Heineken Champions Cup or Pro14 crown.

Beating Leinster in the Aviva would be the place to start.

“We’re a long way off where Leinster are, as the league table shows, but I think that we’re getting closer. When we finally lift something, if I’m involved great, if I’m a fan, there’ll be a few mutterings under my breath, but ultimately I’ll be really happy for whoever is in that squad.”

Right now, and for the foreseeable future, Best is the beating heart of this team and all will turn to him for guidance and direction as they go in search of an unlikely win at the Aviva Stadium. He is reluctant to label any issue with Leinster a weakness, but he is certain there are footholds in the contest they can latch onto.

The key is stringing them together to complete an enormous climb.

“We know we are not going to get an infinite amount of chances. There is going to be at most a handful of chances, and to beat Leinster, you’ve got to take almost every one of them. That’s part of the exciting challenge.

Rory Best Darren Kidd / INPHO Darren Kidd / INPHO / INPHO

“We’ve also looked at bits of our games this season and said look: here are bits from, whatever, 10 minutes from eight games where we’ve shown how good we can be. Well, the challenge is, can we piece all that together to produce 80 minutes?  Because it’s going to take that.

“Teams that beat Leinster are the teams that live with them for 80 minutes and don’t have that momentary lapse of concentration.

“It sounds very tough, and it is, that’s why they don’t lose many games.”

Fewer still on home turf and Best didn’t need a reminder to highlight that Ulster have only beaten Leinster in Dublin once since a vintage 1999 – the 18-22 win at the RDS in March 2013.

“They’ve been pretty good in those six years and we’ve been pretty crap at times.

“We’ve been good in between, but we’ve had moments when we haven’t been good. It’s something we don’t concentrate on now. All we can worry about is this game and that’s what matters.

“If we turn around and win, and it’s the first win in six years – we don’t care if it’s the first in 60 years – as long as it’s a win.”

Rory Best Best in training at Kingspan Stadium yesterday. Matt Mackey / INPHO Matt Mackey / INPHO / INPHO

Rank outsiders and massive underdogs they may be. But Best isn’t balking at the task ahead, it’s days like these, and better, that he is sticking around for.

“It’s the big games, this is why you play rugby. I’ve been incredibly fortunate to play rugby for Ulster for a long time.

There was a stage of my career when I didn’t think I’d ever play in one and then we got to four in a row. Then it flipped to thinking I’d never play in another one and to be here now is pretty special.

“Anyone that plays European rugby wants to play in the knock-out stages. And in Ireland we’re luckier again that most players in the provinces grew up wanting to play for those provinces.

“When you grow up wanting to play for that team and you get the chance to play in a quarter-final of the greatest club competition in the northern hemisphere, you have to pinch yourself how lucky you are.”

Subscribe to our new podcast, The42 Rugby Weekly, here:

Your Voice
Readers Comments
This is YOUR comments community. Stay civil, stay constructive, stay on topic. Please familiarise yourself with our comments policy here before taking part.
Leave a Comment
    Submit a report
    Please help us understand how this comment violates our community guidelines.
    Thank you for the feedback
    Your feedback has been sent to our team for review.

    Leave a commentcancel