Rory Best: Ulster Rugby for life
There had been murmurings that he had been tempted to try his hand elsewhere, but Rory Best put all that to bed yesterday by nailing his colours firmly to Ulster and Ireland's mast.
The 31-year-old –due to be out of contract at season's end – signed up to stay on at Ravenhill until June 2016 when he will two months short of turning 34 and, in doing so, has probably committed himself to finishing his playing days in the white shirt of his beloved Ulster as well as hopefully giving himself another shot at a World Cup for Ireland in 2015.
Best, who is currently rehabilitating from a broken arm suffered in Ireland's heart-breaking defeat to the All Blacks last month which saw him score his eighth international try as he stormed back to form on the international stage, has forged a considerable reputation as one of Ulster and Ireland's key players and leaders.
The long-serving hooker's commitment to his home province further cements the growing belief that the Ravenhill squad, currently top of their Heineken Cup pool after winning all four pool games while also sitting fourth in the PRO12, will continue on their upward curve towards finally securing some all-important silverware – indeed, Best played on the last Ulster side to achieve such success back in 2006 when they lifted the then Celtic League.
Honest and forthright, Best has often spoken of his hunger to bag more trophies at Ulster – losing a Heineken Cup and PRO12 final in successive years has not diminished his desire – and now has clearly decided that this will have to be achieved while staying on at Ulster.
He joins several other leading squad members, including Ruan Pienaar, to sign up for more service even though frontline props Tom Court and John Afoa are departing for London Irish and Gloucester respectively at season's end.
His decision to stay also ends what has been an up and down year for the hooker which saw his own form dip during Ireland's struggling Six Nations campaign before he was then controversially omitted from Warren Gatland's initial British and Irish Lions squad which toured and triumphed in Australia last summer.
Best was only included after Dylan Hartley's red card at last May's Premiership final, which led to a the Northampton hooker's 11-week ban and ensured that a vacancy needed to be filled before the trip began, but then had a disappointing tour and failed to make any impression on making the Test squad though he led the mid-week side in their defeat to the ACT Brumbies.
"It's obviously nice to get the contract signed up, it's always a bit of an uncertain time until you get the agreement but it's good," he said yesterday after committing himself to Ulster and Ireland.
"I love playing my rugby here and this is now my tenth season so it's nice to have another two years here.
"I think at the back of your mind you'd like to play somewhere else but for me probably the major deciding factor were the memories of the end of last season after the disappointment of the Lions to (then) come back for two home games and to get the reception from the fans that I got then brought it home to me just how special it is to play here and how much you're thought of in this place.
"That was definitely one of the key factors in me making my decision to stay here," he added.
His notable leadership abilities are just part of his game where he already has cemented a reputation as a renowned scrummager and effective tackler and until his injury against New Zealand he was showing great form again for both club and country.
Best has represented Ulster 143 times since making his debut back in November 2004 and has scored 12 tries for his province. He won his 70th Ireland cap in last month's defeat to New Zealand and made his international debut against the All Blacks in November 2005.
Unsurprisingly, Ulster's Director of Rugby David Humphreys –who also played with Best – was fulsome in his praise over the player's decision.
"Rory Best is the cornerstone of the Ulster Rugby team and leads by example," Humphreys said.
"You would struggle to find anyone who is more committed on the rugby field, nor someone who is more passionate about playing for his province.
"He has represented Ulster for the best part of a decade now and will be a key player in our team as we continue to build and improve in the coming years," Humphreys added.
With Best now signed up, Ulster's main outstanding contract issues are now to be found regarding the futures of coach Mark Anscombe and skipper Johann Muller whose deals are due to expire at season's end, while the injured Stephen Ferris's short-term contract extension from last summer is believed to be up this month.