Warren Gatland hails Rory Best after OBE honour for Ulsterman
Last Updated: 17/06/17 8:44am
Warren Gatland has hailed Rory Best's character after the Ulsterman was recognised in the Queen's Birthday Honours list.
Best, who has made seven British & Irish Lions appearances in his career, including two starts and an introduction off the bench on the current tour, receives an OBE for services to rugby.
Following Friday's announcement, Lions head coach Gatland saluted Best and pointed out that the 34-year-old's demeanour off the field draws high praise from opponents.
Gatland revealed that Best spent an hour in the changing rooms with the New Zealand Provincial Barbarians after the Lions' 13-7 win on June 3 in Whangarei.
"This is a great honour for Rory, a fantastic achievement for what he's given to rugby in the community in Ulster," said the head coach.
"It's terrific for the sport, his leadership is fantastic, captaining Ireland and doing a great job. He thoroughly deserves this accolade.
"After the Barbarians game, he went into their changing room, swapped jerseys with their captain and hooker Sam Anderson-Heather, and sat down and spoke to him for about an hour.
"And a lot of people made comments to me about that. They were really impressed with him taking that time, making the effort to sit down and talk. Those sorts of things don't go unnoticed."
The Lions coach and his side have hardly any time before they face New Zealand in the opening Test and after the All Blacks' 78-0 victory over Samoa, the pressure is mounting.
Best faces fierce competition for the Test two jersey, with Jamie George and Ken Owens both in form and being selected for Saturday's Test against Maori All Blacks.
However, the 34-year-old is no stranger to competition and clearly has the character to drive the touring party forwards, whichever way the selection calls fall.
The Irish captain, who has notched up 104 caps for his country and played at Ulster Rugby for the past 13 years, took time out from preparations in New Zealand to offer thanks to the scores of coaches, team-mates, friends and family that he believes deserve to share in his honour.
"To be recognised for contributing to a sport, for someone to feel I'm worthy of being nominated, and then to be deemed worthy, it's quite incredible," said Best.
"I'll always refer back to Banbridge Rugby Club and that's where it all started for me, but there are so many people to thank for their help along the way that I couldn't even begin to name them.
"And it always comes back to mum, dad, my brothers and sisters, and my wife and children."