Thursday 22 March 2018

Best determined to make the most of comeback chance

Rory Best will be savouring every moment Photo: Getty Images
Rory Best will be savouring every moment Photo: Getty Images
David Kelly

David Kelly

Lying flat on one's back on a cold, wooden floor would not, by choice anyway, be the preferred location for one to undergo the sort of introspection that accompanies a potentially life-changing event.

Rory Best, however, did not have a choice.

Late last summer, as he trundled into the familiarly habitual and banal treadmill of pre-season work, he had felt his neck buckle beneath the stresses and strains of weights and the pulling and pushing of loads. "Then one day it just went," he says.

Surgeons found a disc in his neck was "bulging". The prognosis was as jarring as the diagnosis. He may never play again.

That nobody was clear when the problem may have arisen further complicated matters.

"It could have been six weeks. It could have been six months. It could have been six years."

An operation was inevitable. Resuming his career was not. It was not the first time such a seismic shock had been visited upon the family from Poyntzpass.

Almost three years ago to the day Rory went under the knife, his brother, Simon, had been sauntering around Ireland's Bordeaux World Cup base with Paddy Wallace before experiencing sudden dizzy spells.

He would later be forced to retire due to a heart condition. His younger brother had never really understood how that had felt. Not until those days lain prone on the wooden floor and the hospital bed.

From the introspective thoughts came perspective.

"When it doesn't affect you directly, you take the view of, 'Oh well, that was unfortunate but these things happen'.

"It probably doesn't hit home as hard as it did in the summer when I was told this could be the season. Or it might be never again.

"I suppose when you're in a situation when you have an injury which could rule you out for the season, you try to pick up positives.

"Mine was the realisation that finally I could have a bit of time away from playing rugby week in week out, giving me an opportunity to put some size and strength on.

"Playing regularly season to season, you don't get many windows to do that. I saw that as a big positive. It's one of those things. There were highs and lows during the recovery process; there always is.

"But you have to try and stay as positive as possible. I was lucky to have good support, not just from my family and Ulster, but the IRFU were very supportive as well.

"It hits home. While I was very lucky to play 90-odd times for Ulster, 30-odd times for Ireland, there's suddenly a realisation that this might be it.

"And it does make you appreciate what you've done and what you go through to get there. I suppose you try to savour every moment when you come back."

He will do so against England in Twickenham for an encounter Ireland simply have to win to resurrect any hopes of retaining their RBS Six Nations crown, twinning that ambition with the chance to erase their Parisien nightmare from the collective memory bank.

"It won't be forgotten about until we play the next game. We've lessons to learn. You learn lessons from every game, especially games you lose. There's not a big problem with the morale.

"We haven't been used to losing the last 12 months or so. That came as a shock to the system.

"There were big lessons to be learned in terms of finer details and being harder on ourselves. They won't be forgotten until we take to the field.

"We'll be concentrating on moving on to become a better team, focusing on England and seeing how we can go and beat them."

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