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Rory Best set for Kingspan send-off as Ulster reveal PRO14 quarter-final fitness hopes

Ulster captain Rory Best is expected to get one final run-out at Kingspan Stadium.
Ulster captain Rory Best is expected to get one final run-out at Kingspan Stadium.
Gareth Hanna

By Gareth Hanna

Ulster fans are set to get one final chance to see Rory Best lining out at Kingspan Stadium.

The legendary captain will call time on his career after the Rugby World Cup and, when his retirement was announced on Thursday, the fear was that Ulster's home support had already seen the last of Rory Best.

The 36-year-old had been ruled out for six weeks when he suffered an ankle injury during the European Champions Cup quarter-final defeat to Leinster on March 30.

That time-frame would have meant Best would only have been able to return to action this season if the province make it to a PRO14 semi-final, which will be away from home. That would have meant his final home game for Ulster came way back on January 12 in the 26-22 victory over Racing 92.

However, head coach Dan McFarland has now revealed that he is 'hopeful' that Best will be back early to lead Ulster out at Kingspan Stadium one last time when Connacht visit Belfast in the league quarter-final on Saturday, May 4.

"Rory won't be fit this week (for Saturday's home game against Leinster) but we are hoping that he'll be fit for the quarter-final," he said.

"I'm really hopeful that he'll be able to do that and that's just on a personal level, not even on a team level. I really hope that he's able to lead the team out at Kingspan one last time."

On announcing his retirement last week, Best himself had indicated that his recovery was progressing well.

"The injury's not too bad," he said. "When the scan came out, it couldn't have been any better for me with the way the injury happened. I hope to make it back for the quarter-final, if not you have to hope the squad perform and we give ourselves every opportunity of a semi-final."

While Best has already confirmed his decision, McFarland said that he would have welcomed the Poyntzpass man prolonging his provincial career.

"I don't think there are many coaches around who would have said they don't want him. That's just not happening," he said.

"But you have to respect the fact that Rory is coming to a crescendo in his career with the World Cup. He understands where he is as a player now. He's 36-years-old and speaking to him, he also understands that it's not going to go on forever.

"He understands that he wants to go out playing his best rugby. That's his decision."

If he makes it back in time to face Connacht, it would be Best's 220th appearance for the province and will ensure he can play a part in one final drive for a second piece of silverware.

Having won the Celtic League back in 2006, Best would earn a second Ulster medal if he can guide Ulster to an unlikely Guinness PRO14 success this season.

An away semi-final against either Glasgow or Munster would follow the home quarter against Connacht.

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