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Humble farmer ready to plough on

The rain buckets down, curtailing the farm work outside Banbridge.

Rory Best ducks into a barn and fires 80 rugby balls through the target hoop of the home-made line-out training contraption he fashioned with his father John.

For three generations and more one Best or another has been farming and playing rugby in Banbridge.

Ulster's evergreen Ireland hooker had the chance to seek a new life experience and rugby challenge amid the riches of France's Top 14 next summer, but a quiet family chat was all it took to reject overtures from across the channel and sign a new two-year deal with his home province.

Professionalism has skewed rugby forever, but the 31-year-old hopes some things will never change.

Ireland and their provinces protect top players from overexposure, a benefit the 70-cap hooker hopes can add years to his career.

"It is a little bit harder to be loyal in professional rugby, there's no escaping that," Best told Press Association Sport.

"Clubs have to make business decisions now too, so it's also harder for them to be loyal to players.

"But I often wonder, if you went somewhere else, would you get over defeat that bit quicker? Maybe it wouldn't mean quite so much.

"At Ulster, for me, when we lose, it consumes you all weekend, because you're so annoyed about it.

"It's not just for yourself, for your team-mates, it's for your family and for everyone around the province and the area.

"Maybe in moving somewhere else you lose a little of those emotional roots.

"One thing you learn from farming, it's very cyclical: one day things are great, the next it's teeming down from the heavens and you can't get anything done.

"You've got to be able to stop it getting you down too much.

"Human nature dictates it will get you down, but you just have to bide your time, so that when the weather clears you're ready to go."

Ronan O'Gara played international rugby at 36 and Paul O'Connell has just signed a two-year IRFU deal aged 34; Best admits he must find fortune in injury and form to mirror that longevity.

Best also said Ireland's player welfare programme is not to be taken lightly, and remains central to the kinds of careers that should see Brian O'Driscoll overtake O'Gara's record caps haul of 128 in his final RBS 6 Nations.

"Your body has to hold up: as long you come through injury-wise you have a chance," added Best.

"Then you need to want to do it. In Ireland I think we're extremely lucky to be playing for clubs that really mean something to us.

"You don't want to give that up.

"So as long as my body holds up and I've still got the appetite for it, I'd love to play for as long as I can.

"It's easy to get a bit fed up with rugby from time to time, but whenever that happens someone will remind you you're a very long time retired.

"Ireland have been good at guarding against players leaving, especially when you look at Wales.

"The player welfare programme ensures national players get a good amount of rest.

"Ulster have been really good to me over the years too in terms of how they have managed me, helping me peak for big games. Getting the most out of top players over a number of years, rather than flogging them for five or six, it's important.

"There's no coincidence when you see John Hayes at 36 and Ronan O'Gara at 36 still going, then now Donnacha O'Callaghan and Paul O'Connell both at 34 and signing new contracts.

"If that system allows you a few more years at the end of your career playing for teams you love, great."

Ireland's two defeats in three autumn contests proved a frustrating return for new head coach Joe Schmidt.

The last-gasp agony of 24-22 New Zealand defeat aside, Ireland produced a rousing performance of incision and passion against the All Blacks.

Best said Ireland's biggest challenge now is blend rugby's old-school blood and guts with the modern era's tactical demands.

"As rugby turns ever more technical, there's still a lot to be said for rolling up the sleeves and putting in some old-fashioned, honest hard work, with a bit of passion," he said.

"Those values are certainly reflected in the way I was brought up, and in the farming fraternity.

"In the first two autumn games maybe we forgot a little about the passion and just the all-out mayhem that we can produce.

"Probably in the New Zealand game we got that balance right, we were accurate and knew what we were doing, but we also brought that bit of physicality and hard work.

"It can't all be dictated from a blackboard.

"Now people are more comfortable with the systems, hopefully we can keep Joe's attention to detail and add that bit of extra passion too."


From Belfast Telegraph