MUNSTER square up to Ulster in Belfast this evening for another round of RaboDirect Pro12 rivalry but even as the two tribes go toe to toe at a sold-out Ravenhill, there will be some strong friendships bridging the two camps.
Leamy and Best may come from opposite ends of the island but after almost a dozen years on international teams together and more than a decade as room-mates there is enough of a connection between the rival forwards that a drinks company brought them together recently to play a part in its “Bushmills Brothers” campaign.
“We’ve known each other a long time, started off with Irish Schools together, then Irish U21s and both broke into the Irish squad at the same time, ended up being room-mates and very, very good friends,” said Leamy of a friendship that has seen him serve as one of Best’s groomsmen.
Best, 29, and Leamy, 30 last month, first played together in the Irish Schools’ Six Nations campaign in 2000 and that led to an eight-match summer tour of Australia. Captained by Gavin Duffy, hooker Best and back row Leamy featured on a squad that also featured the likes of Shane Jennings, Eoghan Hickey, Ian Humphreys, Frank Murphy and Roger Wilson and the Irish rounded off the tour with a Test defeat of the Australian Schools.
“We were lucky enough to tour Australia for five or six weeks and that touring team had a great bond and produced many very, very good players who went on to play professionally in their careers and myself and Rory went onto the Irish team together, became room-mates and we’ve been good friends ever since.
“There were some quality players on that tour and we won every game quite easily, including the Test game and it forged really good bonds between us.
“He’s been my room-mate for two World Cups now and obviously you get to know someone really well when you room together, you share the highs and lows and if selection goes against one of you, you can talk it through with the other. So you help each other through the disappointments and share the good times as well. That’s the great thing about rugby, even in the professional era.”
Ulsterman Best also places great store in the bonds forged on that Irish Schools 2000 tour.
“Especially for me, coming down from Portadown,” Best said. “I knew these fellas but I hadn’t been to school with any of them and I didn’t know them that well, so to go away with them all to the other side of the world having not really been away from home much, never mind without your parents, it’s a wee bit of sink or swim out there.
“You’re sort of forced to get to know each other and forced to make friends. And that tour especially, I’ve a lot of good friends from that tour and going back and getting into the Ireland senior squad, Denis was already in that squad and it was nice to see a familiar face around all the ones you’d grown up watching and were trying to emulate.”
Best also had cause to value that familiar face as recently as October at the World Cup, when his place in the starting line-up to face Wales in the quarter-final was thrown into jeopardy due to a bad shoulder injury suffered in the final pool game against Italy.
The hooker, one of Ireland’s stars of the tournament, looked to have been out of the equation for the following week’s match in Wellington after he was helped off the field early in the second half against the Italians and Munster’s Mike Sherry was called into Declan Kidney’s squad for cover.
Yet he did recover to face the Welsh and Best credited room-mate Leamy with helping him to stay positive.
“Whenever you’re rooming with somebody you have to be comfortable with them and there’s no doubt that for a couple of days of that week I was pretty low at the thought that I was not playing. But Denis was there, trying to help me stay positive, and we chatted about it and about trying to make the semi-final and final and he made sure I was mentally able for that.
“And aside from Denis, there’s quite a few guys in the squad and we’ve all been around quite a while together and been through a fair amount of crap together. We’re generally a pretty tight bunch.”
There are downsides to sharing, however, as both readily attested.
“We know each other so well now, so I can tell him to shut up or give me the remote control, or turn off Home and Away. He’s a big fan of Home and Away, which is terrible,” Leamy said. “But then he keeps telling me to tidy up the place.
“So we’re well comfortable with each other and that’s important. When you’re away from home it’s important you’re rooming with someone you’re comfortable with, you can talk normally with each other, tell someone when you’re pissed off about something and there’s no hassle there, to be able to talk openly is important.”
As for Leamy’s faults, Best pondered: “Where to begin... I suppose the first thing is the training kit. It doesn’t go into the laundry bag, just piles up in the bathroom and so when you got to take a shower you have to climb over it all. Through the door and there’s clothes and boots everywhere.
“So that’s one but it’s hard to name them all, there’s so many of them.
“But it’s not all bad, he has some good traits. It’s hard to put my finger on one now but I’m sure there are some good ones.”