Tuesday 20 August 2019

Best gets 'unbelievable' Lions call after Hartley ban

Rory Best, Ulster
Rory Best, Ulster

Conor George

RORY BEST has described his call-up to the Lions squad as the "ultimate goal" of his professional career after he replaced England's Dylan Hartley.

The Ulster and Ireland hooker was contacted following the 11-week suspension handed to Hartley for swearing at referee Wayne Barnes during the Aviva Premiership final against Leicester on Saturday.

"It hasn't fully sunk in yet," said Best. "It is hard to describe, because it is the ultimate for a rugby player.

"To finally be selected makes playing professional rugby worthwhile. This makes all the lows you get and the knocks and bumps worth it.

"I thought that the chance had gone a few weeks ago, so to be now selected is a massive honour and it has lifted me out of the despair of losing the Pro12 final."

Best (right) admitted he was "devastated" when he was overlooked for the squad originally. His delayed inclusion in the squad brings Ireland's representation up to 10 and now he has his sights set on claiming a starting Test spot.

"There will be 37 players getting on a plane to Hong Kong aiming to make the Test squad and I am no different. I am as ambitious as everyone else.

"To be on the tour is unbelievable, but you have to go there and play your best rugby, put your hand up and see where that takes you," he added.

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The Lions open their 10-game tour against the Barbarians on Saturday. As one of those playing over the weekend, Best will not be considered for that game, but he, along with all the tourists, will start at least one of the opening three games on the tour.

Best's place in the Ireland squad for the tour to North America will be taken by Leinster's Sean Cronin, with Peter O'Mahony captaining the side and Chris Henry filling in as vice-captain.

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