Emotional Rory Best happy to leave rugby on his terms
‘I think you know when the time is right’ says 37-year-old Ireland and Ulster captain
Rory Best with his son Richie. The Ulster and Ireland captain announced his intention to retire fully from the game following the World Cup in Japan. Photograph: Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker Press
With emotion clearly tightening its grip, Rory Best finally let it be known that there will be no more rugby for him once Ireland’s World Cup is done.
The school of thought that the Ireland skipper, having previously announced his international departure once Japan is done, might have been tempted to continue on for an Ulster possibly willing to have him, after returning from the World Cup, was firmly put to bed by the 36-year-old yesterday at the Kingspan Stadium.
With his wife Jodie, along with his daughter and two sons in the room, Best struggled at times to hold it together as he went public on announcing a much more approximate date for retirement from the professional game.
Not that Best was actually ready to admit that he has played his last in an Ulster shirt, indicating that the ankle injury which ended his European Cup quarter-final early against Leinster, at the end of last month, does not entirely rule him out of potentially playing his part in the northern province’s PRO14 play-off against Connacht on May 4th.
Nor was the Poyntzpass native willing to enlighten us on his plans for the future after the World Cup though the indications seem to be that, after a bit of a break, a coaching role – perhaps at his home club Banbridge rather than immediately back at Ulster – may well be the way forward.
“I think you know when the time is right,” Best said yesterday after initially being unable to answer as he fought back tears. “I always wanted to go out on my terms and I think that this is right for me now. It feels like the right time.
“It’s a bit of a relief as it’s been a hot topic for a while, but it’s [still] a difficult thing to come out and say,” he added.
After nearly 15 years with Ulster’s senior squad – he made his debut in November 2004 against Munster before getting his first 80 minutes three games later when facing Connacht early the next year – he has precious little to show, silverware wise, for his time in the shirt other than being part of the winning Celtic League side back in 2006.
It’s been the antithesis of his Ireland career, which began in November 2005, and particularly the last few years which have seen him add a second Grand Slam in 2018 to sit alongside his first a decade ago, when he was second string to Jerry Flannery, as well as the back-to-back Six Nations titles of 2014 and ’15 and leading from the front in downing the All Blacks not once but twice.
Whatever the reason for the timing of revealing this decision, Best, clearly, hasn’t found it an easy one.
“I was fairly sure about six months ago and in the time between then there are little things along the way when you go . . . I think with the Jack McGrath signing and the way we performed at the tail end of Europe and then going so well in the quarter-final [against Leinster] that you go ‘I want to play in these’.
“So I was positive six months ago, fairly sure three months ago and two or three hours before this I wasn’t sure at all, but that’s the way it is.
“I think if you give so much so something it is very difficult to say goodbye to it," he added.
Interestingly, Best revealed that he had yet to address the squad that he won’t be returning, at least in a playing capacity, after the World Cup.
“The last thing I want is to stand up in front of them and though I’m not that emotional, I don’t want their memory of me to be about me breaking down.
“I’m emotional but I’m not sad, I’m really happy with everything I’ve done in an Ulster shirt , there comes a time doesn’t there?”
Regardless of whether he features again for Ulster, the clear priority will soon be Ireland .
“You’re making this announcement and it feels like a full stop,” Best said.
“But it’s November [when I stop] so you’ve got all of summer and autumn to get through so it’s [retirement] a long way away.
“At the moment, it’s about concentrating and contributing whatever I can to Ulster for the remainder of this season and then it’s a big summer and hopefully really big autumn for me.”
As for Ulster, Best believes he is leaving it in safe hands with the two-time British and Irish Lions tourist reckoning Iain Henderson is the man to push things in the right direction.
After the autumn – November 2nd’s World Cup final is mentioned as an ideal way to bow out – it will be time to for the then 37-year-old to be around his young family a good bit more.
“I would like to spend a bit more time with them, the weekends especially just to get and do things with them.
“Coming back early from Edinburgh last Saturday, I got to watch Ben playing a bit of rugby, Penny doing her gymnastics, those are the things that when you are playing and being a bit selfish at the top level, you miss a lot of those because you are resting, recovering, trying to get better.
“I have sacrificed a lot to allow me to be successful.”
Best has certainly earned his moment to go.