Belfast Telegraph

Rory Best proud to make it an Ulster treble in Lions line-up

 

By Jonathan Bradley

With three Ulstermen representing the British and Irish Lions together for a first time in 43 years this morning, Rory Best has hailed the achievement as a proud day for the province.

Best, along with Iain Henderson and Jared Payne, were handed starts for Warren Gatland's side.

Although it proved to be a disappointing defeat, it was still an historic day for Ulster. In fact, not since the undefeated tour to South Africa in 1974 has the northern province provided three members of the same Lions side, and the Irish captain admits that having his Kingspan Stadium team-mates alongside him has made for a special experience.

"They are two great fellas to play with and I've been very fortunate to have played alongside both of them for many years now," he said.

"It's always fantastic to represent the British and Irish Lions, but to do it with two club-mates makes it a little bit more special as well."

Despite what is, in terms of professional sports, something of a pronounced age difference between the pair, Best and Henderson are good friends, often seen putting in the extras together for lineout practice.

As the hooker talks, his admiration for a man who only five years ago was playing in the underage World Cup is clear.

"To see the way Hendy had developed, not only as a rugby player but also in his lineouts and the way he has matured around the place, is great," he said.

"We always knew he was a fantastic talent, but I remember the first day he turned up to pre-season with Ulster and he was this floppy haired kid with not a lot of meat on him.

"While he's had his fair share of injuries over the last couple of years I think he's really learned to play through niggles and bumps and bruises, and just the way he has matured his game.

"A lot of people don't get to see how hard he works off the pitch in terms of the lineouts, but also in the gym and to make himself bigger and stronger, and just trying to improve."

He added: When you get somebody like that who comes in so young and you play alongside him and you see that improvement, it does make you proud."

On his own tour to date, Best admits it is irritating to see much of his good work in the loose, especially in the opening game, undermined by his part in the lineout malfunction that surrendered one final chance to steal the win against the Blues last week.

"It's been a little frustrating because I feel I've been playing reasonably well around the pitch," he said.

"But there's been a couple of set-piece issues and obviously there's been that one big one when we had the opportunity to win that game in Auckland."

With 104 Test caps to his name though, Best knows that things can change in an instant, especially with a good showing in Dunedin.

"Having said that I've been around the block enough to know that you can't dwell on these things, especially on a short tour like this. You've got to keep working hard on those areas.

"Like somebody said, the last game put a bit more pressure because the boys did so well at set-piece. But that's what you want, you don't want to have it easy.

"You don't want somebody to hand you a spot. You want to work hard for it, and that's personally what I'm trying to do at the minute."

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