Ulster hero Rory Best bows out after All Blacks defeat at World Cup
Tearful Rory Best paid tribute to Irish rugby fans yesterday as his glittering international career came to an end in Japan.
Ireland crashed out of the Rugby World Cup following a crushing 46-14 defeat to New Zealand at the Tokyo Stadium.
An emotional Best (37), who announced earlier this year he would be retiring following the tournament, was given a raucous reception by the crowd in his post-match interview.
The Ulsterman spoke fondly of his time wearing the green jersey and paid tribute to outgoing coach Joe Schmidt, saying: "I've loved every minute of it, the support from home and from the fans when we're home and away is incredible.
"I'd just like to thank this unbelievable crowd, the Irish started off as always with an unbelievable atmosphere, they were brilliant.
"Thanks to my team-mates, the coaching staff and Joe in particular who is moving on. I think he took Irish rugby and my game in particular to a different level when he came here. A lot of credit must go to him, just a massive thanks to him."
Rory's wife Jodie handed kids Ben (10), Penny (7) and four-year-old Richie down to him from the stands one by one and they walked on to the pitch with the Ireland skipper to applaud the fans and bid farewell.
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After the match, former Ireland captain Brian O'Driscoll paid tribute to Best, saying: "The fairy tale ending is rare but what an incredible servant he has been, leading from the front and putting in some incredible shifts."
NZ rugby legend Sean Fitzpatrick echoed Brian's sentiments, adding: "He really is one of the good guys, I look forward to sharing a beer with him."
Rory McIlroy, Ardal O'Hanlon and Derry model Joanna Cooper were in the sea of green which had filled the stadium before kick-off.
Hundreds of people also packed into the clubhouse at Banbridge Rugby Club, where Rory is a member, to watch the game. Despite the disappointment of defeat, senior vice president Alexander Waugh said everyone at the club is proud of Rory's career and achievements.
"Everybody is over the moon about Rory's career, he's a great ambassador for the club. No matter the result it wouldn't change how anyone at the club feels about him.
"I'm devastated that he's retiring but the day had to come that he would retire. I remember his very first match when he played alongside his brother Simon.
"It's hard to believe the career he's gone on to have, I don't think anybody could have envisaged where he would be 15 years later. It's been absolutely brilliant but I suppose all good things must come to an end.
"There was definite pride for Rory but sometimes you have to realise the best team won.
"New Zealand were just out of this world, unfortunately for Ireland."