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Skipper can be proud as he exits on own terms


New high: Tadhg Furlong, Rory Best and Cian Healy celebrate win over All Blacks
New high: Tadhg Furlong, Rory Best and Cian Healy celebrate win over All Blacks
In control: Rory Best charges forward against New Zealand

By David Kelly in Dublin

Every sporting professional desires to delay the inevitable day when they must call time but theirs is so often a forlorn plea.

At the very least, all they can hope for is to state the truth of finality for themselves, before their body betrays them or someone else's mind decides to do it for them.

In determining himself to let go, Rory Best possesses the comforting knowledge that, regardless of what others might think, his final days, and the days that follow the first death for any athlete, will be endured the way he wants them to.

It is still a painful release, but at least one of which he has the grasp. "A luxury with which I feel privileged," he affirmed.

He is ready to embrace his sporting mortality, as all must do. Everything he has now immersed in one final push.

Japan now awaits, perhaps a Yokohama swansong in November that even he, for all his achievements in green, can perhaps only dare to greedily anticipate.

Then again, given all he has accumulated after such unpromising beginnings, why not indulge in such an audacious ambition?

He shall depart with a heaving sack of collective accolades; Ulster's most-capped international with 116 appearances; four Six Nations titles, including two Grand Slam successes (one as captain); leader when Ireland first downed the All Blacks before returning to second in the world.

And yet, for all that his career has been so wildly lauded - we almost forget the addition of two Lions tours and an OBE - there remains a nagging sense that his status as captain of the most successful Irish team of all time has not always been wholly reciprocated by the entire island.

That the admiration and respect of his peers within dressing rooms has not always been so universally shared elsewhere.

And yet Best's remarkable journey encapsulated just how the nature of sport can at once formulate the most from a person and the environment they inhabit.

His home place, Poyntzpass, nestles between the borders of Armagh and Down. Best was a teenager when a Catholic and a Protestant were shot dead in a bar; it later transpired one had asked the other to be the best man at his wedding.

Eleven years earlier, on the eve of the inaugural World Cup, an IRA bomb ended the career of Ulster and Ireland player Nigel Carr, in a village that lay just 11 miles from the Best family farm.

Just as it might seem trite to ascribe Best's emergence into one who would form lasting friendships with all creeds and none as being framed by geography, it would be just as foolish if one totally ignored their impact on him and those who would share a remarkable career.

Best may not have been as talented as predecessors Paul O'Connell and Brian O'Driscoll and had to work harder to secure a path that never seemed to be gilded with natural greatness.

A humiliating snub as a sub on the 2006 tour to New Zealand hardened him. And so he had not only to change his game but his unprofessional physique, too.

At the next year's World Cup, his brother Simon - one Rory might also admit was a superior professional, then - was walking in Bordeaux when the sudden onset of a heart condition terminated his career in an instant.

From that moment on, despite a perilous struggle with a serious neck injury, Best vowed to himself that he would never leave anything to chance.

Bowing out on his terms, three World Cups later, owes much to the man Joe Schmidt calls a "no-nonsense, quiet achiever".

There is work to be done on the farm but several months of toil await him on sporting fields first, when he will seek to embellish his status as, arguably, Irish rugby's most influential leader of men.

Belfast Telegraph


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