Emotional Rory Best: ‘It’s so strange being here after so many years’

A VISIBLY EMOTIONAL Rory Best — with his young family sitting at the back of the press conference — this afternoon admitted the time was right for him to call time on his decorated playing career after the World Cup later this year.

The Ulster and Ireland captain had already confirmed his intention to retire from international rugby after the global tournament, but today announced he will hang up his boots completely in November.

Best speaking at this afternoon’s press conference. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

Best hopes to pull on the Ulster jersey again before the season is over, but an ankle injury sustained against Leinster in last month’s Champions Cup quarter-final means he is in a race against time to be fit for the Pro14 knockout tie against Connacht on Saturday 4 May.

The 36-year-old struggled to keep his emotions in check as he spoke to the media at Kingspan Stadium, even if he had come to the conclusion that it was a good time to end a decorated 15-year playing career with his native province.

“You know when the time is right, I always wanted to go out on my terms and I feel this is right for me now,” Best said. “It’s so strange being here after so many years. I feel I’m playing some good rugby but also you have to be realistic and fast forward 12 months and, do you think you’re going to be in the right place? Maybe, but there’s also a maybe not to that and that’s probably the hardest bit of it.”

Best was out of contract with the IRFU and Ulster after September’s World Cup and after much speculation over whether he would commit to playing one final season with Dan McFarland’s side, conceded today’s announcement ‘is a bit of a relief’.

With his wife, Jodie, and three young children — Ben, Richie and Penny — in attendance, the hooker continued: “It’s a difficult thing to come out and say, even coming up here, we kind of said ‘it’s not too late’. It feels like the right time, even though it doesn’t sound like it in my voice, but definitely feels like the right time.

When asked about his most memorable occasions in an Ulster jersey, Best picked out his competitive debut for the province back in 2004, while the Heineken Cup quarter-final win over Munster at Thomond Park in 2012 ranks highly. 

The Craigavon native has made 219 appearances for Ulster and with 116 Ireland caps, is the province’s most-capped international, helping his country to four Six Nations titles and two Grand Slam successes.

Best, who toured with the Lions in 2013 and 2017, will lead Ireland into this year’s World Cup and will hope to bow out on the ultimate high with Joe Schmidt’s side in Japan. 

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As for the future beyond that, he hasn’t given it much thought. 

“You’re making this announcement today and it feels like a full stop, but I was saying to my kids, it’s actually November,” he said.

The Best family. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

“When you think of how long that is, it’s a long way away. It doesn’t feel like that at the moment so for me, it’s about concentrating on trying to contribute whatever I can to Ulster for the remainder of the season and then a big summer and hopefully a really big Autumn for us. 

“Post that, I haven’t given it a lot of thought. Having been in this environment for so many years, I’ll probably want to give myself a bit of a break. Hopefully, the 2 November will be my last game and it gives you a natural break until the end of the season to actually come up for breath and to see what I want to do. 

“I’ve been really lucky with the people I’ve met along the way and you never know what opportunities will present itself between November and the end of the season. It may be a little bit of coaching to see if it’s something I want to pursue for the following season.”

When asked if he had spoken to his Ulster team-mates after today’s announcement, Best added: “I’m not that emotional a person, and I don’t want their memory of me breaking down a bit.

“Whenever you get a bit emotional, everyone thinks you’re sad but I’m not, I’m really happy with what I’ve done in an Ulster shirt and there comes a time, doesn’t there?”

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