Belfast Telegraph

All the Best, captain Marvel: Ulster's Rory Best to retire after world cup

Telling my eldest son was the hardest part, says retiring legend

Rory Best takes a stroll with wife Jodie and children (from left) Richie, Poppy and Ben
Rory Best takes a stroll with wife Jodie and children (from left) Richie, Poppy and Ben
Rory Best with his youngest child Richie
Mark Bain

By Mark Bain

Ireland rugby captain Rory Best says his retirement will be hardest on his children, who will no longer be able to walk with him as he leads out the national team.

The Ulster star announced yesterday would hang up his boots after this autumn's Rugby World Cup, quitting both the international and provincial game.

The 36-year-old said it would be hard for his children, especially eldest son Ben, who thought his father would go on to play in the 2021 Lions tour.

"I had to sit him down and tell him, 'You're at the age now to know (that) Daddy is not going to play on for ever'," he said.

"He went, 'Why not?', and I went, 'There will come a point when I'll become too old and either my body will let me down or my performances will let me down'.

"I knew he was looking at me thinking, 'Yeah right, wise up'.

"He doesn't want it to happen, but we have been sort of prepping him for two years now, so he kind of knows that, unfortunately, it happens, and you get on with it.

"The big shock for him will be whenever it happens because I think he thinks in his head that a lot of the stuff that we do now we will still be able to do - things like going onto the pitch at the Kingspan.

"I don't think they are going to let some punter from the stand walk on with his kid.

"Whenever I take him to a game and he goes, 'Can we not go onto the pitch or into the changing room?', I will have to tell him, 'No. I am not part of it any more'.

"That's when the realisation will really hit home."

Best and wife Jodie have three children together, Ben (8), Penny (6) and three-year-old Richie.

He began his rugby development three decades ago at Banbridge RFC, a team he is still involved with.

Executive committee member David Dodds has been there since the 1960s and has seen four generations of the family progress through the club.

He said the young Rory was destined for big things from an early age.

"His grandfather Don and father Jon were both club captains here and it was only natural the next wave of the Best boys would join," he said.

"Rory's brothers Simon and Mark paved the way, but from the early days Rory stood out. He was always playing in the year ahead and was with us until Under-14s, when he went off to Portadown College.

"The family connection has always been strong and we hope it will continue as Rory's son Ben is with our juniors now.

"We're so proud of all Rory has achieved. He's reached the pinnacle of his sport and has always led the only way he knows how, by example and encouragement.

"We'd welcome him back here with open arms. He can have any role he likes.

"Maybe we'll have a chat and see if we can get him out coaching the younger players. They couldn't wish for a better role model.

"It'll probably be some time before we have another Ulster and Irish captain and British Lion to boast about."

Best has been capped 116 times by Ireland and won the Six Nations four times, including Grand Slams in 2009 and 2018.

Ulster Rugby's operations director Bryn Cunningham said he would be remembered as "one of the greatest legends of Ulster and Irish rugby".

"No player representing Ulster Rugby has had a more profound impact in the professional era than Rory," he said.

BBC Sports presenter Stephen Watson filmed a documentary with the Ireland captain earlier this year.

"I had the privilege of spending a lot of time with Rory, talking about his life on and off the pitch," he said.

"That gave me a real insight into how he ticks. He's driven and dedicated to his sport, but what people don't know is that all that passion shines through in his family life as well.

"His achievements have been remarkable and without a shadow of a doubt he will go down as one of the greatest sportsmen Northern Ireland has ever had. He will be a massive loss to Ulster and Irish rugby."

Another Northern Ireland sporting legend, reigning and four-time World Superbike Champion Jonathan Rea, said it had been a pleasure following Rory's career as a fan.

"Whatever Rory chooses to do next in his life, if he applies himself with the leadership and drive that he has done throughout his career, he will succeed," he said.

Former First Minister Arlene Foster also paid tribute. "I want to thank Rory for his years of service to Ulster and Irish rugby and also for being such a fabulous role model for our young people," the DUP leader said.

"Rory is always a gentleman off the pitch and a great leader on the pitch.

"I hope that he can continue to bring success in what remains of the season and has an enjoyable World Cup in Japan, but most of all I hope he gets to spend time with those he loves and continues to inspire whatever he chooses to do."

Mike Nesbitt, chair of the all-party group on sport at Stormont, has regularly watched Rory lead Ulster from the stands at the Kingspan.

"He has been superlative as a player and captain," said the UUP MLA. "He's an inspirational guy on and off the pitch.

"We all knew this day was coming. It's sad, but we all wish him well for a new chapter in his life."

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