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'Bad boy' of rugby Rory Best on his success, his critics... and regrets over rape trial row

Ex-Ireland and Ulster captain Rory Best reflects on ups and downs in autobiography

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Rory Best standing for the Irish national anthem in Japan

Rory Best standing for the Irish national anthem in Japan

�INPHO/Dan Sheridan

Rory with his family

Rory with his family

�INPHO/Dan Sheridan

Rory Best

Rory Best

�INPHO/Dan Sheridan

Rory Best

Rory Best

�INPHO/Dan Sheridan

Rory Best standing for the Irish national anthem in Japan

Rory Best has opened up on the highs and lows of life as the Ireland and Ulster Rugby captain in his new autobiography.

From trashing hotel rooms as the "bad boy" of Ulster Rugby to becoming one of Ireland's most celebrated captains, Best also speaks out on his "incredibly naive" decision to attend the Belfast rape trial, and facing sectarian abuse in the green jersey.

Married to Jodie, with three children, the Co Armagh-born hooker made more than 200 appearances for Ulster and won 124 caps with Ireland, including 38 as captain.

His career high came in 2018, winning a Six Nations Grand Slam and leading Ireland to a world number one ranking after twice defeating the All Blacks.

He said it was his older brother Simon's early rugby success with Ulster and Ireland that gave "a shy fat lad from Poyntzpass" the belief that his sporting dreams were possible.

Far from his clean-cut image today as a farming family man, he said his game improved considerably after Ulster bosses hauled him over the coals for his drunken antics.

Ulster had just won the 2005/6 Celtic League title, with Best recalling that the team destroyed a hotel room in Swansea after drinking the bar dry.

"The TV crashed to the floor and beds were turned upside down," he said.

"It was old-school behaviour from boys who should have known better but didn't. We were just lucky there were no camera-phones or social media in those days."

He added: "My reputation as the bad boy in the Ulster squad had been growing. A few of us were going out regularly, but it seemed that I was taking most of the blame."

Ulster bosses gave him another chance after he went on a self-imposed drinking ban.

Before winning the Ireland captaincy he learned from the contrasting leadership styles of Brian O'Driscoll and Paul O'Connell.

"Early on in his career, he could sometimes be a bit standoffish," he said of O'Driscoll.

"He had his couple of mates, like Shane Horgan and Denis Hickie, and was very much the big-time player. I am sure he had seen enough chubby boys like me come and go in the Ireland squad when he was at his peak."

He said O'Driscoll's personality later softened after his marriage to actress Amy Huberman.

"It was a lesson I would take with me when I eventually became captain on a full-time basis.

"It can be hard to make sure you remember to give time to new players on the fringes of the squad," he said.

While O'Driscoll was about "skill and flair," he said O'Connell's captaincy style was more about "putting the fear of God" into the opposition.

Best said he was shocked by the backlash after he agreed to attend as a character witness for Paddy Jackson after he was accused of rape.

A jury ultimately cleared Jackson and his fellow Ulster player Stuart Olding of rape charges.

The trial was due to start days before Ireland's 2018 Six Nations campaign against France in Paris.

"A week before the trial started, Paddy phoned me to ask if I would mind being a character witness. I didn't hesitate. He was a friend who needed my help," Best said.

"It felt like the right thing to do. I didn't want my kids to think that in Paddy's hour of need I deserted him. All I was being asked to do was give my opinion on his character.

"I hadn't been there that night, so I was not going to court to make any comment on what had happened."

He added: "The scale of the blow-back that would follow my visit to the court was a huge shock. I didn't really understand the complexity of the situation.

"It was incredibly naive of me. By the time I had driven back down to Dublin to return to the Ireland camp, the eruption of criticism on social media had already begun."

Last week it emerged that lawyers representing Jackson are threatening to sue Best for libel after he expressed regret over attending the trial in a radio interview.

The new autobiography also deals with the prejudice Best faced the first time he was named as Ireland captain in 2012.

"When the news broke, my phone immediately lit up with around 1,000 messages of support. But then one guy wrote on social media: 'No offence but how can a fat Protestant like you captain our country, you don't even sing the anthem?'"

He added his choice not to sing the Irish national anthem or Ireland's Call was down to keeping his focus and not politics.

Of Ireland's lacklustre world cup in 2019, he said: "I don't understand why somebody has to be at fault for it.

"We were beaten on the day by a better team in New Zealand and, for whatever reason, we didn't beat Japan.

"Everyone is quick to forget that between the last two World Cups we were one of the best teams in the world and we didn't quite get our peak right.

"Ireland played the best rugby we have ever played as a nation during the six years under Joe (Schmidt). Not many people have reported that."

Belfast Telegraph