Rory Best slides his moon-booted foot under the table and makes a decision in his mind. This will be no sorry tale. On Monday, he got news his foot wasn’t broken. He also heard the number of weeks could be six.
But the Irish captain watched as Dan Leavy was driven from the Aviva pitch towards an uncertain future sucking painkiller from a tube. The game has hit Leavy hard, Best less so. The Irish captain is seizing a glass that is half full.
“Probably the scan yesterday couldn’t have been a lot better,” he says. “There’s no structural damage, just a few wrenches I suppose to some of the ligaments in there. So from that side of things it’s good news. It is still going to be a few weeks. They just like to put the magical figure of six weeks on it. It might be less. It might be more. I would hope to play some part in the end of the season for Ulster.”
In another sense he says the protective boot has allowed him push out making any decision about his future with Ulster. Although retiring from Ireland after Japan, Ulster is still a possibility. But first conversations must take place.
The Ulster international players left for Ireland in January after their European commitments. Since then it has largely been Six Nations and camp in Carton House. A chat about Best’s club future is imminent. But it is not stressing him. The team he has supported for all of his life and has played with for 15 years. No sweat.
“Probably it will be this week, especially now that I’m not playing. I’ll just go in and see,” he says.
See how I’m feeling
“We’ve had a few discussions. We always said we’d leave it until later in the season and see how I’m feeling. I’ll go in and chat to Dan (McFarland) and Bryn (Cunningham), probably this week, and just see where their heads are and where my head is and see if we can match up.
“Obviously I’ll go off a national contract and they’ll have to find the money for me if I stay. But I think with the hookers they have, they’re happy. It’s not as if they’re going to go out and sign a replacement for me.
“I think they see, and have always seen for the last few years, Rob Herring stepping directly in and then Adam McBurney and John Andrew fighting for that next spot. I think that’s why they have been quite relaxed, and not pushing me for something.”
At 36-years-old Best admits that occasionally for an away Pro14 league match the body tries to tell him something. But on weekend’s like Saturday against Leinster, or, when the French come to Belfast for a European game, then age or the mileage on the clock mean nothing.
He feels perhaps that playing his last game for Ireland at the World Cup has also triggered a rise from his body. The idea that he has to go out and meet that moment and perform like a captain has brought its own impetus and energy.
Nearly waving the white flag
“I’d a very strong six minutes before I got injured on Saturday,” he quips lightening the room. “It’s happened quite a bit at Ulster, Irish internationals who have come to us and in their last couple of years, they’re not getting picked, even the way they are around the place, they weren’t training very hard, and they ended up nearly waving the white flag and walking out the back door.
“That’s something I always said I would try not to let happen. Ultimately you can’t 100 per cent control it. But I said, whenever I’m leaving I want to leave on my terms.”
Not all get to do that. But Best has found balance. He’s made it this far and it counts for something. He still contributes on the pitch, and on and off it he’s a font of experience.
Last Saturday a disconsolate Jacob Stockdale approached him after they had lost to Leinster. Stockdale said that he wanted to address the team in the changing room because of his disallowed try, where he failed to correctly touchdown.
Best told him that no player would expect him to apologise for the error. But Stockdale wanted it. He wanted to take ownership of his action. So in the dressing room the winger spoke to the team and delivered his mea culpa. Best takes some pride from that show of strength.
Let players express themselves
“I think it is important that you let players express themselves,” he says. “There’s no point in me telling him, ‘no, bottle it up, it doesn’t matter’. He got that out.
“He is going to have to learn and it is a very, very hard lesson to learn. He was gutted. As Dan said afterwards, that happened on 44 minutes and there was still 36 minutes left. We had chances, we went ahead again and ultimately Leinster in that last five minutes showed the difference in where we are at the minute.
“You do forget how young (22) he is because of the level he has played at internationally for the last 18 months.”
On his injury, Best is unsure. On playing for Ulster again this season, he’s unsure. On his future after the World Cup, he’s unsure. On the Irish team’s form, he’s unsure.
But chilled, injured and out of Europe, Best has never lost faith.
Rory Best on the #Notmycaptain campaign:
“It’s very difficult even if you get a feeling that one person doesn’t want you there. There was obviously quite a few. It’s one of those times when you feel that the spotlight is on you and all your instinct wants to do is crawl under a rock somewhere. And then when you come out, you hope that it’s all gone away. But then you also know it was never going to be an option. I felt as long as I had the support from my peers and my coaches . . . it’s a dream of mine to do it (captain) and I don’t want to give it up. Nobody wants to be in that position. It was such a sensitive subject. It wasn’t something you could talk about, nobody wanted to talk about it and rightly so, just leave it to run its course, once I saw the sort of outcry. There was support within that, not necessarily for what happened but for me as a captain. That’s important because ultimately while you want everyone to want you to be captain, whenever you scratch the surface and get down to the ones that really matter, are the ones in Carton House, the Shelbourne, or wherever we happen to be. And that was the sort of feeling I got.”