Recently retired Ireland captain Rory Best says that the perception that Ireland coach’s down the years harbour a bias against the north shouldn’t be used as ‘an easy out’ for overlooked Ulster players.
Best was speaking to RugbyPass’ Jim Hamilton on The Lockdown via video link from his farm in Northern Ireland.
Capped 124 times by Ireland, Best is getting to grips with retirement and spending a lot more time in his own company. While Best ultimately went on to captain Ireland 38-times, the early part of his career he spent plenty of time on the Irish replacement bench.
He doesn’t believe a north versus south divide exists when it comes to selection.
“I think with the media, they’re all very parochial. The Ulster journalists obviously write a little more about the Ulster players, as do the Leinster, Munster and Connacht ones. That’s just the way it is. Their readership is going to be based in their province.
“Sometimes we think the journalists in your own province are the harshest on you. I’m not sure whether that’s right or wrong.
“As to the sectarian side of it. There’s always been a lot coming through the years from Ulster fans, the Ulster public and some of the Ulster players, where they feel they’ve been hard done by. ‘If they weren’t from Ulster, they’d be getting picked’. For me it was that we never performed consistently or as well as we should.
“You look at the Ulster teams we’ve had over the years, when we actually had quality teams, in 2010, 11, 12 and 13, we had some really, really strong sides and we actually had decent representation from our team in the Irish squad.
“When you’re struggling it’s hard to argue you should get in. It’s easy to point at ‘Oh, you are from Ulster. If you were from Leinster, Munster, you’d be getting picked.’ I was from Ulster and was getting picked for 14 years, sometimes on the bench, sometimes starting.
“It was really frustrating for me, this was just an ‘easy out’.
“I benched a lot for my early career and I could have just gone ‘Uh, if I wasn’t from Ulster I’d be starting’. I like to think I went: you know what, I need to be better. This is where I need to be better and if that makes a difference and I’m doing absolutely everything I can, and I’m still not getting picked when I’m clearly better, then there’s something wrong somewhere.
“I never found that to be the case.
“Once I got myself into the position where I generally wanted to be, I generally got picked.
“I think a coach would be mad not to pick his best players. Sometimes it’s an easy out to say, well, it’s because I’m from Ulster.”
Best says, like all players, he tended to dwell on negative press and social media posts, sectarian or otherwise.
“Any of the sectarian stuff is so minute. I referenced one guy [in his autobiography) when I was captain at the time that Drico was injured.”
“Thankfully he couldn’t spell. So it actually gave me a bit of a laugh. That’s the sad bit. There was nearly a thousand positive tweets and I couldn’t tell you any of them word for word. This [the sectarian tweet] was almost word for word.
“That is really rare. You get the odd one after the games.”
While the vast majority of Ireland fans rightly regard the Craigavon born hooker as one of the most successful and decorated captains of the professional era, a very small minority of fans have taken exception to his background over the course of his career, and his none singing either the national or the rugby anthem has been a sore point for trolls.
“The national anthem seemed to spark this real divide. The Irish public, the minority who want to bash you on social media [react to it].
“We [Northern Irish players] are in a unique situation. We’re in the UK jurisdiction in terms of this coronavirus, in everything, in tax laws; believe you me now that I’m retired I’d love to be in the Irish tax system and get their tax back. We’re in a different system, that’s where I was born, I’m very proud to be from Northern Ireland, very proud to be from Ulster, three counties which are in the Republic of Ireland.
“But I’m also very proud to represent Ireland.
“There’s a very small minority who don’t take a second to take that on board. Which is sad from our point of view, as we’re representing the only country we ever wanted to represent.”
WATCH: Ireland captain Rory Best’s pre-match press conference ahead of the Guinness Six Nations game between Wales and Ireland in Cardiff on Saturday.
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