Ireland hooker Rory Best felt so down after his omission from the Lions tour party he just wanted to forget about rugby.
But he admits that friends and family, and, in particular, his Ulster team-mates, brought a smile back on his face and the return of that competitive spirit. He is now looking forward to captaining Ireland on their summer tour to North America and seeing off Leinster in the Pro12 final at the RDS on Saturday.
“I was absolutely gutted I didn’t make the squad,” said Best.
“But in many ways I didn’t want it to affect me too much, particularly with so many big games left in the season. In that respect, the boys and the management were incredible in the way they got behind me.
“Boys like Tommy [Bowe] who was selected for his second tour, said he felt so gutted for me he didn’t really want to celebrate.
“It meant a lot to me, that others were hurting as well. Everyone rallied around. The amount of support I got was phenomenal and the way we have played as a group since then has been great and it certainly brought the enjoyment back into rugby for me.
“Now the prospect of captaining Ireland again which I love to do, is exciting, particularly with a very good bunch of boys, and a good number of them from Ulster. I don’t think anybody should underestimate what playing for your country means to me,” stressed Best.
“Ulster are now very much focused on winning silverware this year. True, there has been a lot of ups and downs since the season started, more than I have ever known during my time in an Ulster jersey.
“There have been times when it was the best place in the world to be, which it is, and then other times it has felt a very sad and emotional place,” said Best reflecting on the death of fellow farmer and colleague Nevin Spence.
“The one thing this particular season has done is pull us all together as a group of true friends.
“The big thing is that this team is filled with real self-belief. Whenever we really need massive performances we have pulled it out of the bag. We have gone to hard places and won, like Franklins’ Gardens, and of course, the RDS where we won earlier this season.”
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