Win Rory Best’s awesome autobiography!
Rory Best enjoyed special days aplenty during his 14-year international career, but none of them came in the red of the British & Irish Lions. For such a celebrated player, his lack of a Lions Test cap is surprising.
It’s a subject that features in Best’s excellent autobiography, written in collaboration with Gavin Mairs – you can read a review of the book here.
Further down this article, you have the opportunity to win a copy of the book in our competition. But first, we thought it worth recapping his Lions experiences.
Best made his Ireland debut just after the Lions’ 2005 whitewash in New Zealand. So his first realistic chance to tour came four years later, when he was a 32-cap understudy to Jerry Flannery.
Instead, the Ulsterman was overlooked for the trip to South Africa. Flannery, Lee Mears and Matthew Rees were the chosen hookers and when Flannery pulled out injured, Scotland’s Ross Ford was called in as a replacement.
By 2013, Best was a regular starter for Ireland, with 67 caps under his belt. Many pundits predicted he would be the first-choice Lions hooker.
However, Best and Warren Gatland had history, the Lions’ head coach having called him out for making what he perceived as derogatory comments about his 2008 Wales team. When the squad to tour Australia was announced, the three hookers were Dylan Hartley, Richard Hibbard and Tom Youngs.
Best writes: “The boys in the Ulster squad attempted to ease my disappointment with a bit of ribbing, but the feeling of hollowness was overwhelming. When I got home, Jodie [his wife] was in tears. She knew how much I would be hurting.”
Yet fortunes turned when Hartley got suspended after being sent off in the English Premiership final, opening the door for Best to make his Lions bow.
He hoped it would be redemption for 2009, but Best struggled with the new combinations and the English-based lineout system. He lacked confidence and withdrew into itself.
Being asked to lead the midweek side against the Brumbies in Canberra lifted his mood, only for the match to end in a 14-12 defeat – the Lions’ first loss to a provincial side since 1997.
“It ended our unbeaten Australian tour record. We didn’t play well and the lineout was a disaster. We lost eight out of 13 and up in the coaches’ box, no doubt the view was ‘That is why we didn’t pick him in the first place’.”
Best had been given a red-and-blue scrum cap for the tour. He kept it in his kitbag for four years as a reminder of how it feels to play badly.
After that, surely the only way was up for Best in 2017? By then he had won 104 caps for an Ireland team he now captained. Best made the cut all right but then things went downhill.
He played in a terrible, jetlag-affected win against New Zealand Provincial Barbarians. Then, coming off the bench against the Blues four days later, he lost a crucial last-minute lineout in a 22-16 defeat. “My Test hopes evaporated with one throw at Eden Park. I was the scapegoat and once again it was easy to blame me,” he reflects.
“Instead, it was a combination of things. Joe Marler was supposed to be lifting the jumper at the back of the lineout and he thought the opposition were creeping up to mark it, so he went to do a small dummy, which meant he was a bit slow lifting Maro Itoje. And I probably did throw the ball a little fast.”
Best captained the midweek team to an emphatic 34-6 win against the Chiefs and shrugged off the pain of a popped rib in a 31-31 draw against the Hurricanes. His form was impeccable but the Lions saw no value in him as a replacement off the bench. It was start or nothing in the Test series and it ended up being nothing.
It was not all gloom. In his book, My Autobiography, published by Hodder & Stoughton (£20), Best relates some amusing tales from the 2017 tour, along with advocating ways to improve the Lions in the future. To read about that, you can buy the book here.
We also have six copies to give away in a competition. For a chance to win one, just answer the question below and fill in your details. The competition closes on Monday 8 June.
Terms and conditions
Six winners will be selected at random, each winning a copy of Rory Best’s autobiography.
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