Rory Best will meet Ulster bosses in the next week in a bid to decide whether he will play for his native province after next season’s World Cup.
The Ireland skipper has already announced that the global tournament in Japan will be his Test swansong but it remains to be seen if Japan marks the end of his playing career or if he will commit to one last push with his province.
Best spoke yesterday, at his unveiling as a Specsavers Audiologists ambassador, like a man who is still conflicted but the upswing in Ulster’s fortunes will clearly make it more difficult to pull the plug on a relationship stretching back 15 years.
Ulster should have beaten Leinster in last Saturday’s Champions Cup quarter-final in Dublin and the province gave another statement of intent this week with the announcement that Jack McGrath would be quitting Dublin for Belfast this summer. “It’s strange, some days you wake up and you go, ‘No, that’s it, I’ll get to the World Cup and I’ve done enough’,” said Best. “Then we get to occasions like Saturday and you kind of go, ‘this is a team that actually, for the first time in a long time at Ulster, seemed to rise to the big occasion’.
“And you want to be a part of that. And then the news of Jack signing ... you know, to play alongside Jack at club level would be class. But, ultimately, I’ve got to weigh everything up and not just have a knee-jerk reaction.”
Ulster are well equipped at hooker with Ireland international Rob Herring, Andrew McBurney and John Andrew all in the queue behind him and Best’s injury last weekend means that all three have been temporarily bumped up that pecking order anyway.
Best came off in the first quarter after damaging ankle ligaments but the results of the subsequent scan were as positive as possible with the player due to miss roughly six weeks. He may well be back before the season is over. His World Cup ambitions haven’t been dented in the slightest.
The romantic in him would appear to be leaning towards one more shift with Ulster next term and the prospect of teaming up with McGrath, whom he knows well off the pitch as well as on, for half-a-season will be hard to resist.
Best was a guest at the Dubliner’s wedding a few years ago and that knowledge of the person as well as a player who has represented Ireland and the British and Irish Lions has informed his excitement over the capture of such a talent.
“Jack is a top guy,” Best explained. “That’s something Ulster in their signings potentially fell down on in the past. It was all about the ability and not the person.
That has changed now in the last little bit. Jack is an example of that. He’s a top guy.
“These frontrow forwards, by and large, we all get on really well with each other. We spend a lot of time in terms of the strategy of what we want to do. The likes of Jack, Killer (Dave Kilcoyne), I’ve known Cian (Healy) a long time, I would talk to, or text, Tadhg Furlong nearly every week.
“They’re all really good guys to get on with. Jack has been around a long time and we would have a lot in common. It’s hard not to like him, even though he has a tendency to be stubborn as a mule about things when he wants to be. But even when he is like that, he is still a top lad!”