Outgoing Irish rugby captain Rory Best never once put a put a foot wrong in his role as leader, Irish rugby legend Willie John McBride said after Ireland were eliminated from the World Cup in Tokyo on Saturday.
Retiring captain Rory Best paid an emotional tribute to Ireland rugby after a clinical performance from New Zealand ended their World Cup dream, 46-14.
Defeat against the back-to-back champions signalled the end of Best’s international career, while head Irish coach Joe Schmidt will also be leaving his role.
Best, 37, struggled to hold back tears and speak in his post-match interview as the stadium gave him as standing ovation for 15 top level seasons in the game.
“I would just like to thank this unbelievable Irish crowd,” the Poyntzpass man said. “It started off with an incredible atmosphere and they were brilliant.”
Speaking to the News Letter, Ulster, Irish and Lions rugby legend Willie John McBridge paid tribute to Best.
New Zealand did play magnificently, he said, “but it has to be remembered that they had two weeks rest before the game whereas Ireland only had one. “And it was noticeable that Ireland just did not have the same levels of energy that we have seen them play with in previous games.”
He did not think it was possible to make a full recovery from an international rugby match in one week. ”Especially not the way the game is played today.”
Willie John noted the standing ovation given to Rory after the game. “At 37 years of age Rory has been a tremendous servant to Ulster and Ireland,” he said. “He has always done and said all the right things as a captain.” Former Irish and Lions player Trevor Ringland said he was disappointed but not surprised at the result, describing New Zealand as “the ultimate competitors”.
“However we should reflect on the enjoyable number of years rugby this team has given us,” he said. “Rory Best has just been an inspiration and Joe Schmidt has brought us to the top of world rugby, including two victories over New Zealand.”
There were hundreds of glowing tributes to Best on social media from fans across the world of rugby.
Helen Goulding said: “No true Irish fan has anything but thanks to give to this guy. We haven’t played well this World Cup but this guy owes us nothing - led us to some unbelievable highs”.
Andrew O’Callaghan agreed: “...2 grand slams under Rory - we’ll never forget.”
Mark Meehan added: “A warrior, he left everything on the field - thanks a mill”.
Banbridge RFC paid tribute to his character and his willingness to support their players throughout his career.
“Over the 31 years since Rory Best first took up mini rugby at Rifle Park, he has been an incredible source of pride for everyone at Banbridge Rugby Club,” the club said in a statement.
“Although Rory always showed great promise at mini rugby and later with our U-14s and U-16s no-one would ever have thought that he was embarking on such an illustrious playing career.
“And throughout his time as a professional rugby player he has been such an inspiration, not just to the younger players at Banbridge, but to all young players in Ulster and Ireland.
“His dedication, self-discipline and leadership qualities are without question. But what has delighted everyone at Banbridge has been his readiness, throughout his career, not just to acknowledge his roots, but to return to the club and give of his time coaching individuals and squads.
“It would of course be our wish that in his retirement from the professional game, Rory would have more time to give the benefit of his vast knowledge of the game to the current crop of players at the club. But for now we would just thank him for all he has done to put the name of Banbridge on the international rugby map and to let him enjoy a period of rest and recuperation after the World Cup.”
Rory began his rugby at Banbridge RFC, also having played with Portadown College and Belfast Harlequins RFC.
He has over 120 caps for Ireland and over 200 with Ulster. Best’s leadership of Ireland is record-breaking; he captained Ireland to its first ever win against New Zealand in 2016 and steered the country to second in the world rankings.