Rise of Rory Best, devoted family man and Ireland captain
As newly-installed Ulster skipper Rory Best prepares to lead Ireland into this year's Six Nations Championship, his former team-mate Stephen Ferris says he will always think of him first as a grounded family man and the "squad joker".
Ireland's most-capped hooker Best (33), hotly tipped all week to take up the captaincy after Paul O'Connell retired from Test rugby after the World Cup, said he was "unbelievably humbled and privileged" when he was confirmed as Ireland's new captain.
His former Ulster and Ireland team-mate Ferris - who feels his old colleague is currently playing the best rugby of his career - congratulated him, saying: "There's no better man for the job."
Speaking to the Belfast Telegraph, he said: "I just heard him say that he's very proud for himself and his family and everything else, but he's earned it.
"Without a shadow of a doubt he was the best player for Ireland during the World Cup."
Off the pitch, Best runs his farm in Gilford with his wife Jodie and young children Ben and Penny.
In between tending cattle, He's renowned for perfecting his line-out throws with a specially-made target in his barn.
Yesterday in an interview with Ulster Rugby TV, he said that rugby has always been in his family.
His brother Simon is a former Ireland international and his father remains heavily involved in Banbridge Rugby Club.
"They were obviously absolutely delighted," Best said after hearing he was to be Ireland captain.
"It's been something that's in my blood. We'd been going down to Dublin watching the great captains leading teams back then.
"I've been lucky to play under some of Ireland's captains like Pauly (O'Connell) and Brian (O'Driscoll) and to be taking over from those guys is a huge honour for me and my family as well."
Ferris remains close friends with Best today.
"He's a good lad, a good guy," Ferris said.
"His family come first which is very important and rugby is something that he really enjoys.
"Yes, he's goddamn good at it and it earns him a living at the minute, but he doesn't forget where he comes from.
"I suppose he's a bit like Rory McIlroy. Everyone says how level-headed and grounded he is. Rory's very similar to that. He still lives out in the countryside. He's never moved into Belfast. He's been a one-club man and he puts his heart and soul into it."
Asked what made him the favourite choice for Ireland captain, Ferris said it's as much about communication as it is about his talent on the field.
"It's important to have somebody that when they open their mouth you straight away listen to them," he said. "I've worked with Rory over the years when there's captains of teams that have been fantastic players but when they speak you don't really take in what they're saying.
"He leads by example on the pitch, but it's also his speeches that he prepares before big games.
"You even look at the Ulster performance away to Oyannax last week. At half-time there was some stern words said by Rory."
Asked what he would remember most from his time playing with the new Ireland captain, Ferris replied: "Just that he's a joker, he slags everybody, he runs about with a smile on his face.
"It doesn't matter if you're 19 years of age or 29 or a senior player in the squad, he just slags everybody and has the craic and fond memories for me are always having the banter with him."
He said this quality helped through more difficult times.
"Even when everything wasn't plain sailing for Ulster for four or five years, when we were going through coaches so often, the craic with him was still there. He was still the family man and such great craic. If you spoke to anyone from the same squad they'd say exactly the same thing, he is the squad joker."
Ferris added that while Best is "not getting any younger", he thinks his greatest moments as a player could be to come. He said: "I think Rory in the back of his head knows that there's not going to be too long left in his career, maybe another two or three years."
And he added: "I think for him to captain Ireland at the end of his career when he's playing his best rugby and with Ireland up there with the world's best, that's a real highlight for him and something he's very proud of."