Northern Ireland news

Ireland rugby captain Rory Best's decision to attend court on day two of the rape trial provoked a storm of criticism

Rory Best pictured at Laganside Court. Picture by Pacemaker

IRELAND rugby captain Rory Best's decision to attend court on day two of the rape trial provoked a storm of criticism.

Best, who was set to lead the Ireland team out against France in Paris in the Six Nations tournament just three days later, attended with fellow Lions, Ireland and Ulster star Iain Henderson.

Also present that day were Ireland and Ulster winger Craig Gilroy and Ulster prop Kyle McCall.

However, it was the Ireland captain who bore the brunt of social media ire, with angry hashtags taking issue with what was perceived as his support for his team mates.

Twitter was awash with #notmycaptain, #shouldertoshoulderwithher and #boycottirishrugby.

There were messages in support of his perceived position, although these were fewer in number.

Best initially declined to comment on his reasons for attendance when he was asked at a press conference in Paris ahead of the Six Nations opening weekend.

He also made no comment when asked if he had permission from the Irish Rugby Football Union to attend.

Best and Henderson were on a day off from the Ireland rugby training camp for the Six Nations when they attended the trial in Belfast.

Ireland coach Joe Schmidt refused to answer when asked for his views on the players' attendance, with the IRFU saying categorically that "any person attending court proceedings does so in a personal capacity".

However when, in a post game interview, he was again asked to explain his attendance and whether it came with the backing of the national team, Best said he had been following advice.

"We sign out on Tuesday night, Wednesday is our day off, so technically we don't need permission to do stuff on our own time," he said.

"The reason I was there, it's on the record I've been called as a character witness.

"I was advised it was important to attend, so I got both sides of the story. Because it's an ongoing legal matter, I will make no further comment than that."

Ulster Rugby had reportedly given advice to staff and players on making public statements and appearances during the trial.

As the controversy continued, the judge finally addressed the matter in court after it was raised by the defence.

Judge Patricia Smyth said "the only reason he was in court was because he was directed to be here by senior counsel".

Best was one of five names given the jury of potential character witnesses for the defendants.

However, he was not called.

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