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I'll give the World Cup everything, then ponder future: Rory Best

Final hurrah: Rory Best trains ahead of his final game as Ireland captain at the Aviva Stadium today
Final hurrah: Rory Best trains ahead of his final game as Ireland captain at the Aviva Stadium today
Rory Best stops for a photo with fan Jennifer Malone
Tommy Bowe
Jonathan Bradley

By Jonathan Bradley

When Rory Best first began his regular journeys down to what was then Lansdowne Road, the post-match meal was more of a draw than the rugby.

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The skipper, who will get an Aviva Stadium farewell as he leads out the side against Wales this afternoon (2pm kick-off), would much rather place his focus firmly on the upcoming World Cup but, given the occasion, was forced to look back when meeting the media for one final time at Carton House this week.

"I don't know about the first one but I definitely remember the '91 World Cup," he said of his memories of those early family trips down to Dublin.

"I remember sitting in the old West Stand when Gordon Hamilton scored in the corner (in the quarter-final against Australia).

"I was with my dad and my dad's uncle. We had to stand on the old wooden, rickety seats just to see down into the corner. I just remember the entire row just flipped and broke but no one cared because Gordon Hamilton just scored. There are all those little bits and pieces.

"To be honest, at the start, I used to go down mainly because we stopped at the Monasterboice for steak on the way home.

"I did enjoy my rugby but I liked to watch it on TV and then go out and play a bit in the garden, come back and watch a bit more, go out and play a bit.

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"When you went to Lansdowne Road, you didn't get the option to go out and play, but there is no doubt that the incentive of the steak got me down.

"Look, when you are down there with your family, you get hooked. I suppose we have been going down as a family since I was four or five.

"There have been some wonderful memories there and then we have created some wonderful memories on the pitch, which I never thought I would."

As with any top sportsman, there have been ups and downs, none more so than these past few weeks. Despite his stellar record when leading the side, there were some looking to see him carry the can for the emphatic defeat to England in Twickenham two weeks ago.

That always seemed wholly unlikely this close to a World Cup - not least because no pretender to the throne has yet excelled in their chances as a starting hooker - but there is simply no way to filter out all the noise. Best, whose key qualities have always included resilience, has taken heart from how he's responded to such adversity in the past.

"I think when you talk about the bubble, some seeps through", he admitted. "When you're sat there in a team meeting, everyone is aware that we haven't been near the standard we want.

"You feel that you've let yourself down, let the other people in the room down. Everyone gets cranky. It's not just that you're trying to block out what's written, that wouldn't change how you feel inside as a group.

"But some of the special times have been coming back from adversity, from people doubting you.

"Everyone knows a really talented player who just didn't make it but maybe that's because they couldn't handle that. I think the bad games, you have to look back with pride over how you dealt with them, the lessons you learned.

"Like I remember a Scotland game at Croke Park, and they were all over us and we couldn't win a lineout. It was a combination of everything but being a hooker you take a lot of the flak for it. I put that on myself too.

"I didn't have the confidence because, when things went badly, I hadn't practiced enough that I could go back and trust the throws I'd done.

"That was a big lesson to me and I really upped the amount of practice I do. It's hard in the middle of a game to think like that but when you get away you can go 'I've done X amount of throws in a week and I can stand over that'," he said.

"It's through the adversity that you get to there. If I hadn't had that bad day, I'd just keep doing what I was doing and thinking that everything would be okay."

Remaining even-keeled is key and, as such, Best is hoping to downplay the emotional impact of his final trip to the Aviva.

Easier said than member of Carton House staff burst into tears when seeing the 119 times-capped Poyntzpass man come off the training paddock at the team's Kildare base for a final time.

"I think all I can really do is reflect on how I'm feeling," he said. "Hopefully if we get a good performance and a win, I'll be able to look back then and reflect on what has been I suppose a very long career at first Lansdowne Road and now the Aviva.

"I'm very proud of a lot of the achievements over the years in that green jersey but at the end of last year, I probably struggled because I like to think, and I've probably said this before, I'm reasonably emotionally level and then at the end of last year, that last ever Six Nations game at the Aviva.

"The same happened at Ulster. I just didn't really enjoy it. I actually said to my wife afterwards 'I can't cope with this, it is not something I like doing'. That's why probably subconsciously I haven't given it much thought, or allowed myself to give it much thought, because this is about performing and a bigger picture.

"We took a bit of a step forward last week to where we want to get to. We're nowhere near where we feel we can be and this is about taking another step forward with ultimately the big goal being September 22 onwards."

No matter what happens, it'll all be over by November 3. For someone who has been in the pro bubble for so long, what comes next?

"It's hard to know," he said. "You are so focused on the World Cup now, there are aspects that I know I won't miss, which I talked about already.

"But there are those aspects that you are really going to miss. As much as you love the nostalgic thought of being on the farm and doing what I used to love doing before the rugby took over, I'm going to miss the camaraderie, craic with the lads. That is the sort of stuff that you will miss. You will stay in touch a bit but ultimately the team moves on, the squad moves on and they have to stay together and tight.

"It's funny seeing Tommy (Bowe) floating around here today. It's not that long ago that he was in the middle of this and, now, you say a quick hello on your way somewhere else. But you never have time to sit and have a chat with them. So I suppose that's what I will look forward to - having a chat with Tommy."

And of course getting back down to the Aviva as a supporter, sitting with the family once again.

He might even treat himself to another of those steaks.

Belfast Telegraph


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