Belfast Telegraph

Sharing Lions call with family was special, says Rory Best

By Michael Sadler

Elated Ireland captain Rory Best has admitted he thought his British and Irish Lions chance had come and gone when he was left out of the initial touring party four years ago.

Although he did make it out to Australia in 2013 after Dylan Hartley was suspended, the hooker believed then that he’d be too old to ever hear his name called at one of the much-hyped announcements in future.

At the age of 34, however, the Ulster hero was last week named in Warren Gatland’s squad for the summer trip to New Zealand despite no other player in the 41-man strong squad being older than 31.

“I think four years ago, it was bitterly disappointing not to make the original squad,” he admitted last night.

“It’s something after the disappointment of four years ago, I was 30 four years ago, so I probably thought I wouldn’t get another chance to have my name read out.”

After being thought of as a certainty last time around and not making it in the original line-up, Best retreated to the seclusion of County Donegal with his family to await news of the latest squad on television.

It was, he recalled, a nervous stay.

"This time round, to be sitting with my family watching, it was reasonably relaxed in the morning," he said.

"But when we got to half eleven, quarter to twelve, you're obviously very nervous.

"It's a tough time because it's so important to you as a rugby player.

"I've grown up watching and playing rugby and this is the pinnacle of anyone's rugby career. To have been named in that squad, we're obviously delighted.

"I was bombarded by the three kids and my wife. It was absolute elation.

"There's all the hard work we do as rugby players, but the sacrifices that your family make to allow you to do that, in those little moments they are all worthwhile."

While Best captained the midweek side in Australia, he did not pull on the famous red jersey in a Test match, something he would dearly love to rectify against the back-to-back World champions.

"I think the competition right across the squad is going to be intense," he said.

"There's some real quality players in there and the hooking department is no different.

"For me, it's about keeping performing the way I've performed to get there but it takes a little bit more because it is a very tough place to go and tour."

One thing Best will have in his favour is the experience of captaining a side to victory over the fearsome All Blacks.

Steve Hansen's side had won 18 in a row before taking on Ireland in Chicago, with Best leading the men in green to a never-to-be-forgotten victory.

"Ultimately Warren has talked about how you have to go and believe you can win and we went to Chicago with that belief," Best said of Ireland's first win over New Zealand in 111 years of trying.

"No matter how the build-up goes, people will doubt you because you're playing the best team in the world.

"You have to have that internal belief and we've got to make sure we do everything we can to prepare the best we can.

"That means revealing a few secrets that internationally you would maybe usually hold back from the opposition.

"We have to get everything out on the table.

"The few things that worked for us to beat them, and also with England going 18 unbeaten, there's a lot of things have worked well for them, so we all have to buy into those little things and at this level, little things make a massive difference."

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