It’s hard to imagine an Irish forward line without the burly presence of Rory Best. The Ulster man has worn the number two jersey for Ireland for well over a decade and has achieved great things in the green shirt, completing a Six Nations Grand Slam in 2009 and 2018, while making over 100 appearances for his country throughout an impeccable international career.
Best announced in April that the 2019 Rugby World Cup would be his swansong. The hooker is rugby’s equivalent of a one-club man, having played for Pro14 club Ulster for 15 years, notching 218 appearances in total. He has captained the side on many occasions since taking on the title from his brother Simon in 2007.
The hooker position is one of the most crucial in a scrum, a role that Best has been a shining example of. His strong, yet ever so slightly dumpy stature, makes him the perfect man for the physical demands of the role. He is the familiar instigator of the Irish line-out, with the resultant mauls being one of Ireland’s main strengths in recent years. Such longevity at the top of the game does not occur by chance, it is the result of years of dedication and hard work. Best’s attitude perfectly reflects the iron-willed, committed role that he plays on the pitch.
Few rugby players can boast the kind of career Best has enjoyed. He has been a part of four Rugby World Cups and many Six Nations campaigns. Perhaps the only regret will be that he never made an appearance for the British and Irish Lions, despite being in the squad for two separate tours. However, Best’s career is one that represents a lot more ups than downs.
He helped lead Ulster to an unlikely Heineken Cup final in 2012, where they lost to a strong Leinster side, just missing out on European glory and a place in history. However, it is not near-misses that define a player, it is the ability to reach those showpiece occasions, to give one’s all for their teammates and supporters. Best has been a model professional, representing at once the virtues of rugby and the hard-hitting nature of the sport in action.
Best has never been one to boast of his fame and success. He is more than content on his family farm in County Down, where he has always lent a helping hand when not on the rugby pitch. Being a man of earth and soil has helped Best remain grounded. “Maybe it keeps me out of a little bit of trouble,” he said in an interview. “I like being in the country, close to home and close to friends. When I get home and close the door behind me, I’m surrounded by fields and it’s very relaxing.”
Perhaps this love for simple pleasures, those of home comforts and quality time with family, is the reason Irish rugby fans hold such a special place in their hearts for Best. He carries none of the airs associated with elite international sportsmen. A man who leads a humble, honest life off the pitch, but gives his all for his country on it, is one that all supporters can admire.
He will certainly be giving his all as Ireland make another stab at Rugby World Cup success in Japan. While the Rugby World Cup outright odds may favour the likes of New Zealand and South Africa ahead of Ireland, Best will be eager to right a few wrongs when it comes to Ireland’s record at world cups. At 37 years old, he remains a key member of the Irish pack, both for his technical ability and his experience and leadership skills.
When the Six Nations rolls around in February, there will be Best-sized hole in the Irish side, and a heavy heart for supporters so used to seeing that familiar white scrum cap charging towards the try-line. At the end of a career defined by high levels of performance and international success, Best has admitted it is the little things he will miss the most.
“Those are the things you remember,” he said after his final home game for Ireland, a 19-10 victory over Wales, “the little bits and pieces, the trips to the stadium on the bus, the moments after the games when you look around the stadium and everyone’s wrecked, when you’ve given your all for this jersey. These moments are made special by your team by your family and by so many people. It’s been unbelievably special to play for this country.”
Best will be hoping that there is one more special memory to be made in Japan before the curtain falls on a fine career.