"I saw this old, fat bloke with a bald head and I thought Besty was behind him" 4 months ago

"I saw this old, fat bloke with a bald head and I thought Besty was behind him"

"You and Webb Ellis, running around tackling each other!"

James Haskell and Rory Best have taken lumps out of each other on the rugby field but it did not taking retirement to bring them close together. Both men bonded on the 2017 British & Irish Lions tour to New Zealand and are now thick as thieves.

The Lions has a great away of dropping fronts, and grudges, between players used to going full-tilt during the Six Nations and on club duty. So it proved when Best and Haskell made Warren Gatland's squad to tour the Land of the Long White Cloud in 2017.

Best, like Haskell was in 2017, made his first Lions Tour as a replacement in 2013 when England's Dylan Hartley was banned for calling referee Wayne Barnes a '****ing cheat' in a Premiership final. While most players would have rejoiced in making the touring party, Best admits he could not shake the sensation that he was merely making up the numbers. He had missed out on the original squad and the sting remained.

Not feeling like a fully-fledged member of the squad meant that tour to Australia, which featured a midweek loss to Jake White's Brumbies and no Test minutes was a cause of sore reflection for Best. So, when he made the Lions squad for the tour to New Zealand, he determined that he would soak in every moment and make some great memories.

Rory Best arrives for training during the British & Irish Lions captain's run at Rotorua International Stadium in June 2017 in Rotorua. (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)

Haskell was a late call-up after Billy Vunipola withdrew from the original squad. As much as he yearned to make the Test squad to face the All Blacks, Haskell embraced his role within the midweek squad and struck up a fast friendship with Best.

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They got off to an uncertain, Haskell remarks, when Mako Vunipola wound him up over Best's age. "He nearly had a heart attack on that Lions Tour," Best recalled on House of Rugby.

"The boys told him, you're now the oldest on tour and he told them, 'No, I can't be. Besty is definitely older'. And he shouts across and goes, 'Besty!' in his usual sort of way. 'Oi, Besty! How old are you?'

"You were 32 at the time so Mako told me and I said, '31'. James goes, 'Ohhh f***!'"

Haskell was not about to let Best have all the fun, and interjected with a jab of his own.

"Originally, when I shouted over and was like 'Besty!', I saw this old, fat bloke with a bald head and I thought Besty was behind him. Because I hadn't seen him without his scrum-cap before.

"I was like, 'Sir, sir, could you get the f*** out of the way? I'm trying to talk to Rory Best'. And then the bloke turned around and said 31. So it was a double shock. It was, 'Oh my God, he's younger than me and that old bloke is actually him!'"

CJ Stander and James Haskell of British & Irish Lions prior to the match against Crusaders in 2017. (Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile)

Best recalls meeting Haskell for the first time, as teammates, when the Lions convened at the team hotel before a farewell dinner reception in London.

"Honestly, whenever I first heard [about it], my first thought was, 'For God's sake, we're replacing Billy Vunipola with him?!'

"And the only interactions I had really had with Hask, before that tour, was a couple of Champions Cup launches as captains. We'd be across to London and nobody would want to be there. And then there was this voice, and you'd be thinking, 'Would he ever shut the f*** ... !'

"But the first time I properly met him was the morning after the Premiership final and you boys [Wasps] had lost in extra time. We were in the Lions hotel and he was there with Chloe [his wife] and the two of them came over. It was myself, Hendy and Jared Payne.

"We'd flown in an were early so were having breakfast. He came over and shook the hands, said hello and Chloe did the same. And you're thinking, 'He's not as bad as I thought' and, as the weeks went by, you got a little more fond of him!"

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The game that both Haskell and Best are proudest of, as part of the midweek Lions in 2017, was the 34-6 trouncing of a solid Chiefs team at Waikato Stadium to tee up the opening game for the Test team. The Lions went 1-0 behind in that series before winning in Wellington and sharing the spoils with a draw in Eden Park.

"Thinking of that 2013 tour," Best reflected, "everyone goes, 'The English, oh God, how did you get on with them?' But they're the ones I got on most with. Dan Coles, Joe Marler, the Youngs brothers, Tom and Ben."

Add the likes of Haskell, Kyle Sinckler and Jack Nowell from the 2017 tour and Best won't be short of a few guys to catch up with and have a laugh with whenever he is over in England.