Rory Best delighted to banish disappointment of 2013 after getting Lions call
IRELAND skipper Rory Best is expecting a hostile welcome for the British and Irish Lions in New Zealand this summer.
After the disappointment of being left out of the initial squad for the tour of Australia in 2013, the Ulster hooker was one of three from the province named in Warren Gatland’s 41-man squad, with Iain Henderson and New Zealand-born Jared Payne also included.
In all 11 Irish players will travel, with Robbie Henshaw, Jonathan Sexton, Jack McGrath, Tadhg Furlong, Sean O’Brien, Conor Murray, CJ Stander and Peter O’Mahony the others.
Best was left out of the initial squad four years ago, with Warren Gatland – who again heads the coaching ticket – preferring, among others, Dylan Hartley on that occasion. However, Best replaced Hartley on the tour after the England hooker was banned for abusing referee Wayne Barnes in the Premiership final.
England captain Hartley has been omitted this time and his international understudy Jamie George set to travel.
33-year-old Best says his reaction was a mixture of “delight and a little relief”.
“There’s so much pressure and after four years ago and not being named in the squad,” said Best.
“Everyone said I had a good chance this time and just to be sitting round with the family when my name was read out, it was elation, is probably the best word for it.
“You try to tell yourself that you’ve done it before and it won’t be a big deal of you don’t make it this time but ultimately, waiting for the announcement was very tense and nervous and no matter how much you try to kid yourself, it would probably have felt like the end of the world for a few hours if I hadn’t have.”
The Lions beat a transitional Australia 2-1 to secure a first series victory since the 1997 tour of South Africa.
But up against the reigning world champions, who were on a record-equalling run of wins until Ireland beat them in in Chicago last autumn, Best admits it will be a different challenge altogether.
“It’s a completely different beast.
“Even when we played Australia four years ago they were in a period of transition – they weren’t a particularly settled side, they were getting beaten by a lot of teams, whereas New Zealand are the best team in the world by a bit of a distance.
“They are different environments. Australia is obviously a lot bigger and there are so many more sports there.
“Whereas with New Zealand, any time we’ve been there with Ireland, it’s a lot more hostile, everyone will know in the country what you’re there for and you’ll be in a gold fish bowl.
“It will be very, very tough but what an opportunity to go to one of the biggest rugby playing nations in the world and try to do something special.”
The tourists will play 10 games, beginning against a New Zealand Barbarians side on June 3 and culminating in three tests against the All Blacks.
The first takes place on June 24 in Auckland and they will return there for a potential series decider two weeks later, with the second test in Wellington in between.
As with any Lions selection, much of the debate yesterday centred on those who were left out, with in-form Munster lock Donnacha Ryan the hardest done-by of the Ireland contingent.
But with Joe Schmidt preparing a squad for their tour of the United States and Japan, Best feels there is plenty for those harbouring disappointment to get their teeth into.
“From an Irish point of view I think 11 is very good for us but we still have a lot of quality to go away and tour America and Japan.
“It will be a great test of our depth and it will be another step forward for us. Guys going on their first Lions tour will learn a lot but the boys going on tour with Ireland will also learn as much.”