A Dublin goodbye the final stop-off on Best’s farewell tour

A Dublin goodbye the final stop-off on Best’s farewell tour
Rory Best is not impervious to criticism: ‘If I hadn’t had that bad day, I’d just keep doing what I was doing and thinking that everything would be okay.’ Picture: Inpho/Morgan Treacy

Rory Best has been struggling and, no, we don’t mean the line out.

It’s over four months since the Ireland captain announced that this World Cup would bring the curtain down on his time as a professional rugby player and the days and weeks since seem to have brought an endless line of occasions marking the last this or the last that.

The first of them was his last Six Nations game at the Aviva, against France last March, followed just six days later by a last appearance of any hue in the championship, in Cardiff.

A couple of months later and all that was repeated with one last appearance at the Kingspan before a final run for Ulster, away to Glasgow.

Each one was noted, but not by him.

And on it goes. He was walking off the Carton House training pitch on Thursday when a woman, one of those supporters who have become a regular around team HQ on match days, reminded him through floods of tears that he had just walked off that patch of turf for the last time.

Best isn’t cold to these gestures but there was a part of him that couldn’t help but think ‘thank God for that’.

He has done his time there. He is, by his own admission, an emotionally level type of guy so the fact that today marks his last game on Landowne Road isn’t something he has been eager to embrace either.

“I just didn’t really enjoy it,” he said of his send-off game in Belfast. “I actually said to my wife afterwards, ‘I can’t cope with this, this is not something I like doing’.

That’s why probably subconsciously I haven’t given (today’s) much thought, or allowed myself give it much thought, because this is about performing and a bigger picture.

Still, it would be remiss not to have asked him for an overview of his days in Dublin.

Best has been making the trip down south since he was four or five. He preferred to watch rugby on the box then as it meant he could nip out the back for a game when the mood took him but the promise of a juicy steak in Monasterboice on the way home usually proved decisive in luring him to D4.

Well he did because the memories are priceless.

“I don’t know about the first one. I definitely remember the ‘91 World Cup. I remember sitting in the old West Stand when Gordon Hamilton scored in the corner. 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 gave a s**t because Gordon Hamilton just scored.”

These are thoughts that give him added pleasure now that his own kids are old enough to accompany him onto the pitch at Lansdowne Road for the latter part of a career that has enriched the soil more than most.

Some of the highlights are obvious — beating the All Blacks, the England game at Croke Park — but the one that stuck in the mind as Best reminisced during the week was his first start, against South Africa in 2006.

These were different times. The squad still practisedlineouts on the morning of a game back then — unthinkable now — and Best can still recall the shudder he felt when he woke up and opened the curtains to a filthy dirty Dub-a-lin day.

It may have been Blackrock but, whatever the venue for that run-through, the result was horrendous, his first throw making about two metres before the wind caught the ball and took off down the pitch like Simon Geoghegan running for a bus.

“The first lineout in the game was exactly the same and I remember going, ‘oh my God, what am I going to do?’ And then John Smit’s ball did exactly the same. It’s funny how little things like that make you relax a little bit.

“I don’t know if he had 100 (caps) then but he was very close to it. He was the captain and whenever he did it you go, ‘oh, right, okay’. And it ended up we won most of the rest of them, I settled into the game and felt good about it.”

Ireland won that day, a case of all’s well ends well, but it wouldn’t be the last time Best struggled with his — cliché alert — darts. There isn’t a hooker in the world who hasn’t stood alone on the touchline, exposed by his singularity and an inability to find his target.

That’s the gig. It happens. Sometimes it’s your fault, sometimes it’s the lifter or the catcher. At other times it’s a combination. Whatever the reason, the finger is invariably pointed at the hooker but such adversity has had it’s plusses.

It’s nine years since Scotland stole a win in what was the last rugby game at Croke Park. Many things went wrong that day, and it cost Ireland a Triple Crown, but the fact that Declan Kidney’s side couldn’t buy possession from a lineout was a particularly costly failure.

Best realised then he didn’t have enough confidence to back himself when things went wrong because he simply hadn’t practised enough. He hasn’t made that mistake again since and it is knowledge he has leaned on since his difficulties out of touch against England at Twickenham last month.

“I’ll do practice today, I’ll do more tomorrow and, when I’m bricking it on Saturday, when I get a moment, that’s the sort of thing you can reflect on. That’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.”

He’s not impervious to the criticism.

Best is 37 now and he’s had at least three or four years of people framing every mistake and every bad performance in the context of his advancing years. He takes comfort in the training stats and game nous that tell him they are isolated events rather than signs of a terminal decline. Other things besides remain constant.

The nerves still grip when the team bus leaves the Shelbourne Hotel and makes its way to the stadium. There will be a moment when he wishes he could be on the outside looking in and raising his pint to the players cocooned inside but it will pass and he will realise his good fortune in having made the inner circle.

And for prospering for so long in it.

He will miss this. Not the windswept and wet days of practice out in Carton House but the craic and the camaraderie. The umbilical linkbetween player and team won’t be cut completely when he leaves but he understands that the squad moves on and that the distance between them will grow.

Tommy Bowe was knocking about the team HQ this week in his role as a presenter with eir Sport. He still looks ridiculously young and fit enough to do a job for Joe on the wing but he is already a year and more on from the last game he played. That didn’t escape Best’s attention.

It’s funny seeing Tommy floating around here. 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!”

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