Rory Best: Ulster captain as determined as ever to achieve Ulster success no matter what the future holds

Rory Best' during Ulster squad training session
Rory Best' during Ulster squad training session
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With Ulster fighting strongly on two fronts this season, Rory Best may still get to fulfil a dream and lift a trophy as captain of his Province.

Speculation over his future with the Province increased at the start of the Six Nations Championship two months ago when the Irish captain announced that he would probably retire from international rugby at the end of the World Cup this Autumn.

Given the tie-in with National Contract and of course the fact he is not getting any younger, it was widely assumed the 36-year-old British Lion would probably sign off from the professional game completely.

But yesterday the 218-times capped Ulster hooker revealed he was still to have a conversation with the powers that be at Kingspan Stadium on what that future post World Cup would be with his club.

“I wanted to get back in here again, settle in and see how things are going,” said Best. “I’ll have the conversation with Dan (McFarland) and Bryn (Cunningham) and see what everyone wants to do.

“But I really have not thought about it that much.”

Best returned from what was a disappointing Six Nations campaign, finishing third a year after he had lifted the trophy in Twickenham after Ireland beat England to achieve a third-ever Grand Slam.

There is still the biggest prize of them all to come with the World Cup when Best will lead Ireland in Japan, but for now the focus is firmly on getting some business done with Ulster.

He was rested under IRFU player welfare rules for Ulster’s 33-17 win over Southern Kings on Saturday which shot Ulster into second place in Conference B of the Guinness PRO14 and firmly on track to make the play-offs - with second place guaranteeing them a home tie as well as securing European Champions Cup rugby next season.

This week the attention turns to the European Champions Cup and a massive sold-out tie against defending champions and Provincial rivals Leinster with Best leading his side out at Dublin’s Aviva Stadium.

It is the first time since 2014 Ulster have been in the knockout stages of Europe, but being there provides the opportunity of silverware - just as reaching the play-offs in the PRO14 would do.

And as he ponders on his future with his Province post World Cup, being involved in the pool stages of Europe this season and now preparing for a quarter-final tie against Leinster he admits that weeks like this want to make you feel like going on and on.

“That’s the thing, it’s the big games, this is why you play rugby, revealed Best.

“I’ve been incredibly fortunate to play rugby for Ulster for a long time.

“There was a stage of my career when I didn’t think I’d ever play in one (European quarter-final) and then we got to four in a row.

“Then it flipped to thinking I’d never play in another one and to be here now is pretty special.

“Anyone that plays European rugby wants to play in the knock-out stages.

“And in Ireland we’re luckier again that most players in the provinces grew up wanting to play for those provinces.

“When you grow up wanting to play for that team and you get the chance to play in a quarter-final of the greatest club competition in the northern hemisphere, you have to pinch yourself how lucky you are.”

With Ulster making huge strides this season, and still in the mix across two competitions, there is the feeling if it does not happen this year (win a trophy) it is soon - but the fear could be Best would not be there when it happened.

Laughing, Best said: “There is that side of it, but if that old saying is true then the longer I drag it out, the longer Ulster have to wait (for silverware).

“Ultimately, this season isn’t over. We’re still fighting strongly on two fronts.

“When I do retire, I’d love to go out and lift a trophy. But when I do, I’ll be an Ulster fan.

“If I go and see them lift a trophy - I’d be severely pissed off if it was fairly soon - but you can still feel that you were part of a turning point, 12 months ago with the Cardiff game.

“To feel you were part of that. The green shoots of recovery, you can see that with the Six Nations window, we went from fifth to second in the league.

“That says a lot about the squad we’re building, the coaches that we have working with them.

“We’re a long way off where Leinster are, as the league table shows, but I think that we’re getting closer.

“When we finally lift something, if I’m involved great, if I’m a fan, there’ll be a few mutterings under my breath but ultimately I’ll be really happy for whoever is in that squad,” he added.

There is however the other side to it - and Best wants to go out on a high and on his terms.

“Hopefully the body doesn’t break before I walk away. It’ll be tough but you got to look back at the years you got.

“A lot of my friends who had half the time, guys I came through underage at Ulster and Ireland, my generation, have all retired without experiencing half of what I did.

“It’ll be tough when the time comes but you got to be thankful for what you achieve,” added Best.