'The last thing you want is to feel like you're a bit-part player' - Rory Best 2 months ago

'The last thing you want is to feel like you're a bit-part player' - Rory Best

One of the most uplifting moments at Kingspan Stadium, as Ulster beat Connacht, was not the welcome or send-off for Rory Best. It was for a moment he has delivered time and again in this game.

Late in the quarter final, with Connacht within a score of Ulster and on the attack, Rory Best dipped into the breakdown and won his team a turnover.

The white head-gear emerged from a clatter of bodies and Best was engulfed by his teammates. Another big play in another big game. Still got it.

Following Ulster's quarter final victory over Connacht, and long after the last of the lingering fans had left the stadium, Best came up for a chat with the press. He spoke superbly, as he so often does, about what the province means to him and where he will leave this squad.

Rory Best speaks to his team-mates following the Guinness PRO14 quarter-final match between Ulster and Connacht at Kingspan Stadium in Belfast. (Photo by David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile)

Asked about that turnover, secured not long before he was subbed off in the 70th minute, Best smiled. He commented:

"The reason you want to keep playing... like I always said I wanted to go out at the top of my game and the last few years I've always tried to be really focused on playing well, no distractions, it's all about the rugby.

"But you kind of have one eye on... you want to gauge it right and not overstay your welcome and as long as you feel you can still have pivotal moments in the game, then you feel you can still contribute. The last thing any player, especially someone who's played for a long time at the top of his game, you don't want to feel like you're a bit-part player. You want to feel that you're a pivotal face in the team.

"In fairness to Rob Herring he's been fantastic and every time you feel you're playing well, he plays well and you feel him breathing down your neck, and the same with Sean Cronin and Niall Scannell in Leinster and Munster. I think while you're still playing well you want to be a part of it and I have enjoyed trying to get better. Even this year after 15 seasons here, I still go out on the training pitch seeing what I can do better, because you have to if you want to keep these boys away."

On Baz & Andrew's House of Rugby, former Ulster star Andrew Trimble [from 18:30 below] paid tribute to his old teammate, and captain.

Rory BestRory Best with his son Richie following the Guinness PRO14 quarter-final match between Ulster and Connacht at Kingspan Stadium in Belfast. (Photo by David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile)

Trimble said, "I was lucky to play with both Rory and Darren Cave for so long. They're both good friends and leaders and they've both accomplished so much... I've been fortunate enough to share the pitch with both of them."

Best had his children, Ben, Richie and Penny, out on the pitch with him after the quarter final and, post-match, he reflected on his Ulster journey, which has stretched on over two decades.

"Ben asked me when I first played for Ulster and I said, '2004, sure you know that'. But he said, 'No, when did you first pull on an Ulster shirt?' I said it was 1998 with Ulster schools and he said, 'Did you know that was the same year Michael Lowry was born?'

"I said, 'Brilliant Ben, thanks! That's exactly what I needed to hear when I'm going into a big game unsure about my ankle'.

"They've been great. Richie keeps telling me he's going to be a professional rugby player with Ulster and Ireland but he's not going to retire. Ben knows a little bit more and he sort of knew it was coming, though he hoped it wouldn't. And Penny just enjoys the camera, I don't know what she's going to do when the camera's not on her next year.

"Look, they've been great and I've said a lot about how my wife (Jodie) brings them all to every game. We talked at the time we were having them that we wanted them to be involved, we wanted them to have memories like this. Whenever we had our first we thought we'd get him there because we didn't know how many we were going to have. He's had eight years coming here, going to Ireland games, going to Lions games and she's brought them everywhere. I don't know how she travels places with them, but she does, and they have these special moments.

"Family is very important to me and my mum and my dad, my sister was over for this game and my big brother Simon is always there and his kids were on the pitch too.

"It was a really special occasion for me to have everyone there and I suppose all you're hoping is you can end it all with a win."

Ravenhill or Kingspan Stadium, call it what you will, Best has years and years of special memories at the old ground.

"This place means the world to me. It’s nice to get the reception that I got," he added.

"I still remember coming back here in 2013 after that Lions announcement and the reception I got then. Those are the moments that you never forget.

"At a time when you feel isolated, this place can give you a big hug and say, 'We think a lot of you'. Today was no different. From a selfish point of view it’s really nice to get that sort of reception. It’s some place when it gets going."