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Home is where heart is for Irish stars, says Rory Best

By Jonathan Bradley

New Ireland captain Rory Best has poured cold water on the idea of a 'player exodus' from these shores saying he was never tempted to leave Ulster for the riches on offer abroad.

Leinster duo Ian Madigan and Martin Moore will represent Bordeaux and Wasps next season, while both Keith Earls and James Cronin were heavily linked with switches to England before opting to stay with Munster.

Simon Zebo is another reported to be considering a move away.

Best - taking over the captaincy from now retired Paul O'Connell ahead of Ireland's Six Nations title hat-trick bid - cites Madigan's desire to play more as a 10 as the reason for the 26-year-old's decision and doesn't see the lure of big spending French and English clubs as more of a threat now than it has been in the past.

"Ultimately Ian Madigan moved because he wants to go and get top-flight rugby," Best said. "He's competing against one of the best out-halves in the world (Johnny Sexton) which is obviously going to limit his game time.

"He's made a big decision to go away and say, 'I'm going to go a different avenue to try and become Ireland's number one No 10', and credit to that.

"I wouldn't necessarily say it's a worry. If you look at it across the Premiership and the Top 14, there are a lot more players moving clubs and moving around regularly.

"In Ireland, because it doesn't happen often, whenever we get one or two and maybe another one rumoured to go it becomes a big deal."

While the 33-year-old knows what it's like to be courted by other clubs, he says the thought of departing his native province was never really considered.

"There's always been around contract time an option that 'this club needs a hooker, or that club needs a hooker', but for me dealing with the IRFU has always been reasonably straightforward," he said.

"They've been fair to me and the way I like to conduct my business is, if they give me a fair offer, I want to stay in Ulster and play with Ireland.

"From my point of view it's always gone fairly seamlessly because the IRFU have been good at conducting their business.

"If I get a fair offer, I'm happy to negotiate around that. If there wasn't a fair offer then your hand can sometimes be forced.

"Ulster have been really good to me. From a fairly young age they put a lot of trust in me. They didn't try to sign foreigners in the hooker spot and sort of said to me, 'we're going to trust you to grow into that position'.

"But always being a starter at Ulster has helped me in that I haven't had to search elsewhere to try to find first-team rugby."

With the World Cup quarter-final exit at the hands of Argentina - as well as the failure of the provinces to advance from their Champions Cup pools - the state of Irish rugby has been the subject of much debate but Best insists that the start of the Six Nations next weekend - the Irish host Wales on Sunday week - has re-invigorated the squad.

"To lose the World Cup quarter-final was bitterly disappointing. There's probably been a lot made of the injuries but ultimately it was the start of that game cost us.

"We feel there's a bit to build on there.

"We've a really good mix - there's a few in there for the first time, there's a few who've maybe only a handful of appearances in the squad.

"There's been a real freshness about having a slightly different squad, and this is a new challenge for us to push forward and challenge."

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