OPINION: Could Rory Best’s final farewell go on for a little while longer?

The Barbarians' Rory Best leaves the field. Credit �INPHO/Andrew Fosker
The Barbarians' Rory Best leaves the field. Credit �INPHO/Andrew Fosker
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Rory Best has given rugby writers many opportunities over the years to pen another story or feature, and in the last week we were sharpening the pencils once again as it looked like the Ireland and Ulster hooker was going to be lured out of retirement.

Rumours that Bristol Bears and at least one other English Premiership side had spoken to the Poyntzpass farmer about a potential short term contract began to whet the appetite that the 36-year-old was perhaps not done yet.

In what has been described as possibily the longest farewell in rugby history, Best had retired from playing for Ulster in May last year and Ireland in October at the Rugby World Cup. He then was invited to play on the Barbarians three-match tour, which finished on Saturday in Cardiff’s Principality Stadium.

And apparently, captaining the Baabaas in the Welsh capital was the last hurrah from Best.

Leading the tourists onto the pitch with his three children, Ben, Penny and Richy, the popular figure in rugby circles across the world also made one final significant gesture in his last game ever.

When he captained the side at Twickenham over three weeks ago, he wore one Ulster sock and one Banbridge sock to represent the two clubs he played with.

In Cardiff, it was one Banbridge sock and on the other leg, the Portadown Panthers sock.

Best is the Patron of the Portadown side which is a tag rugby section for children and adults with learning difficulties.

It was a significant, special gesture as six days earlier Best had attended the funeral of the man who formed the Panthers, Willie Gribben, who died suddenly at the age of 72.

It is a measure of both men that Best chose to wear the Portadown side’s colours in his final game.

The ovation Best received as he led his side out, when he was replaced in the 51st minute and at the end when he was doing a post match interview (his three children with him) was quite amazing - and only slightly bettered with that from the 62,000-plus for Warren Gatland.

Gatland was coaching the Baabaas against the nation he had managed for the past 12 years and stood down as head coach after the World Cup.

Best was mentioned by Gatland in his post match words and also by referee Nigel Owens, the first time a man in the middle has been allowed to take charge of a game involving his home union.

The ovations at Kingspan, Glasgow - where Ulster played their last match - in Dublin at Ireland’s last home game and then in Japan when Ireland lost to New Zealand in a World Cup quarter-final, coupled with the Baabaas game in Cardiff, were the best way for Best to bow out, revered as he is across the World.

The rumours this week about putting retirement on hold certainly raised some eyebrows.

There is no doubt that a club with a hooker injury crisis at the minute - such as Bristol and Harlequins have - were good grounds to approach Best. And knowing how difficult it is myself to walk away from something that has been a large part of your life for a long time, it would have been understandable if the Ulsterman had been tempted.

However, Best has always been regarded as a one-club man and it would perhaps have been difficult to see him playing his career out in any other colour than the famous white jersey he has given so much to over many years.

Bristol played down the links later in the week, but I am convinced there is never smoke without fire and the English club - currently riding high in the Gallagher Premiership - would have wanted to have the former Ireland and Ulster captain in their ranks, even as a stop gap.

If, as it now appears, Best has bid his farewell to the professional rugby scene, he does so as one of the greats. He owes the sport nothing, but will no doubt be around Rifle Park on Saturday mornings to offer advice to his sons and their teammates at mini rugby and some guides to the senior sides at Banbridge.

Talking about careers that could have finished in Belfast, Ruan Pienaar revealed this week at the Guinness PRO14 Media Day in Cardiff that he still feels the pain of the decision by the IRFU not to allow him to extend his contract with Ulster at the end of the 2016-17 season.

The South African international - capped 88 times - was one of the crowd favourites at Kingspan/Ravenhill and when David Nucifora, told the Province he could not stay, he made no friends in Belfast.

I had spoken to Pienaar earlier this year when he had joined South African PRO14 side The Cheetahs, and the pain of what happened three years ago was evident.

And again, this week in Cardiff, it is still raw with the scrum-half.

This weekend Munster suffered a similar fate when told that Alby Mathewson had to move on, and while it is important that Irish players must be promoted and developed, it all comes down to a business decision, which does not take into account things like the impact if may have on the players involved.

Pienaar admitted being forced to leave Belfast was “a tough one” and it is clear he did not enjoy his time at Montpellier, but more importantly nor did his wife and children. They actually returned to live in Belfast after the first year with the French club.

“You can’t really say what you felt at the time but you’ve got to respect the decision that David Nucifora made,” admitted a solemn looking Pienaar.

“I guess at the time it would have been nice to finish my career at Ulster, but in a few years’ time, I’ll sit down and think about my career and everything that happened, and you’ll think it wasn’t too bad.

“I had seven great seasons with Ulster and really enjoyed my time. It was very sad to leave there for me and the family. But it is what it is, you’ve got to move on.

“Somehow I’ve made my way back to South Africa, where I grew up and the team I supported when I was young. It’s funny how things work out in life. You can plan, but it doesn’t always work out that way.

“As adults and parents you move on, but when you have a young family that is happy and in a school and that has made their friends, to tell them you have to leave is hard. It’s tough.

“We had to go through that. I had my family with me for one season in Montpellier and then they came back to Belfast because they didn’t enjoy it and my wife struggled. Going forward, it would be nice if they (IRFU) just think of the whole package.

“It is probably business decisions but there is more than just the player. There is a person with a family that is happy and enjoying life and making a contribution. It’s tough if it is like that but I guess you have got to respect that and move on,” he said.

The decision to return to South Africa and play there was prompted by a family tragedy, his sister being killed in a car accident earlier this year.

“Despite the circumstances, I am grateful to Cheetahs for the opportunity. My family are all together which is great and we are enjoying it once again,” added Piennar.

The Ulster favourite will return to Belfast in February when the Cheetahs take on the Irish province - it will be a special reunion.