Rory Best: I thought my fairytale finish with Ulster was slipping away
Ulster skipper Rory Best is still dreaming of the perfect farewell to his club career after Saturday's 21-13 PRO14 quarter-final victory over Connacht.
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The 36-year-old will hang up his boots when Ireland's World Cup comes to an end out in Japan later this year but his last run out for his beloved Ulster will come this month, either in a semi-final at Glasgow next Friday or the Celtic Park final eight days later. "The fairytale is still intact," said the only member of the current Ulster squad who won the league back in 2006. "At a stage, when it was a one-point game, I could feel it slipping away.
"We're under no illusions, that we've two weeks to catch our breath and prepare for Glasgow because Scotstoun is a really tough place to go and win.
"They've been playing fantastic rugby. The last time we were there we got a bit of a battering. But by and large, with this squad, we give it our best shot and if we do that then we've a chance."
On his last Belfast appearance, Best was given a hero's farewell by the Ulster crowd when replaced by Rob Herring late on and acknowledged it was a special day for him, all the more so with his family, including former Ulster and Ireland prop brother Simon, watching on.
"Family is very important to me and, as well as my mum and dad, my sister was over and my big brother Simon is always there and his kids were on the pitch, too," said Best. "It was a really special occasion for me to have everyone there and I suppose all you're hoping is you can end it all with a win.
"My eldest son, Ben, asked me this week when I first played for Ulster and I said, '2004, sure you know that' but he said, 'No, when did you first pull on an Ulster shirt?' I said it was 1998 with Ulster schools and he said, 'Did you know that was the same year Michael Lowry was born?'
"I said, 'Brilliant Ben, thanks. That's exactly what I needed to hear when I'm going into a big game unsure about my ankle'.
"They've been great. Our youngest son, Richie, keeps telling me he's going to be a professional rugby player with Ulster and Ireland but he's not going to retire.
"Ben knows a little bit more and he sort of knew it was coming, though he hoped it wouldn't. And our daughter, Penny, just enjoys the camera, I don't know what she's going to do when the camera's not on her next year."
Best added: “They’ve been great, and I’ve said a lot about how my wife, Jodie, brings them all to every game.
“We talked at the time we were having them that we wanted them to be involved, we wanted them to have memories like this.
“Whenever we had our first, we thought we’d get him here because we didn’t know how many we were going to have.
“He’s had eight years coming here, going to Ireland games, going to Lions games and Jodie’s brought them everywhere. I don’t know how she travels places with them, but she does, and they have these special moments.”
If there is to be one more highlight in his storied Ulster career, Best believes his side will have to be better in Glasgow than they were against Connacht on Saturday.
Dan McFarland’s team controlled the battle for possession and territory, largely denying Connacht a sniff of a try before carelessly gifting an intercept score to make it a nervy one-point game until Marcell Coetzee’s late try.
“We have to play with more precision,“ Best observed. “We had Connacht on the rack a couple of times — they’re a quality defensive side — but we let them off the hook. They had a few intercepts at pivotal moments and that could have been very costly.
“We have to tighten up at set-pieces. We were a little bit slow to get set and that allowed them to see the pictures.
“In the second half, we talked about speeding it up which helped us. We know we can be better.
“We were a little nervy at times. We had a fantastic start. But we can be, and we have to be, a bit more razor sharp in Glasgow.
“In our defensive sets I thought we looked comfortable at times, and not just that we were aggressive at the line and drove them back at times.
“Our entire game will have to be a little bit better and we know how good they are but that’s for another time.”
- At the PRO14 awards in Dublin’s Guinness Storehouse last night, Benetton’s Kieran Crowley was named Coach of the Year while Edinburgh’s Bill Mata was named the league’s Player of the Year.
Edinburgh also saw fly-half Jaco van der Walt claim the Gilbert Golden Boot with a goal-kicking accuracy of 86.84% while the club’s retiring Scotland hooker Ross Ford was recognised for incredible longevity in the Championship as he received the Chairman’s Award.
Glasgow Warriors’ Adam Hastings was voted as the Energia Next-Gen Star of the Season following in the footsteps as Jordan Larmour, Joey Carbery, Stuart Hogg and Jonny Gray.