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I’ll continue to roar long after this Lions tour, insists Rory Best

 

By Jonathan Bradley

Thanks to his involvement with the British and Irish Lions in New Zealand this summer, Rory Best wasn’t in Japan last week when the 2019 World Cup draw was made, nor will he be there next month when Joe Schmidt’s men get a preview of the upcoming global showpiece with Tests in Tokyo and Fukuroi.

However, he is not yet giving up hope of eventually making it to the Land of the Rising Sun, with the tournament in the Far East now just over two years away.

Best — who was in the Vale of Glamorgan yesterday as the Lions held their first training session — will be 35 before next season starts, and his IRFU contract runs out in the summer of 2018.

The hooker, who has previously said he will play for as long as he is physically able as a mark of respect to his brother Simon, whose career was cut short by a heart issue, presently has no plans to hang up his boots.

“My son Ben has already asked about the next Lions tour, he has me in South Africa,” laughed Best at a dinner held in his honour by Lurgan Rugby Club.

“I’m out of contract at the end of next season so we’ll probably start to talk potentially at the end of November. If I feel then like I do now, I’ll still be playing.

“I’ll be a long time retired. I know that when you’re this old, people like to talk about retirement and tell you that you’re done and this, that and the other, but as long as I feel like this, and as long as (his wife) Jodie can put up with it at home, I’ll keep going.”

On whether the national captain, already the first Irish men’s skipper to lead the side to victory over New Zealand, will be wearing the armband as Schmidt’s men aim for a first ever World Cup semi-final, Ulster’s only Test centurion is more coy.

“I’m not going to stand here now and say I can make another World Cup, but as long as I can play international rugby, and feel that I’m not just surviving there but that I’m competing there, I’ll play as long as I can,” he said.

With Asia’s first World Cup having come into sharper focus thanks to last week’s pool draw — the men in green were paired with the hosts, Scotland and two yet to be determined qualifiers — Best believes the next two years will need to see continued improvement if they are to make a stir in Japan.

“I think when you look at England with France and Argentina, you have to think, ‘that could have been us’,” he said of the idea that Ireland have been handed a favourable draw.

“But it is two years away, and on the back of Japan at the last World Cup, Scotland beating us at the last Six Nations, they’re both on an upward curve and we need to make sure that we stay on an upward curve.

“At the minute we’re among the top four teams in the world but we need to make sure that we’re still there in two years’ time, we need to be the team in that group that people fear.”

The best way to ensure that happens, he believes, is to emulate England in 2016 and capture a Six Nations Grand Slam.

“There are some guys in their 30s, guys like Johnny Sexton, who have never won a Grand Slam,” reflected Best, who made one start and four substitute appearances when Ireland last achieved the feat in 2009.

“He’s been open about that, he doesn’t want to finish without one. I dearly want a second one.

“For us to get to the next level, you have to look at England, to go 18 games unbeaten is an incredible achievement.

“You have to look at it and ask yourself how they have done it.”

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