"Lord, I don't ask that I should win, but please, please don't let me finish behind Akabusi."
My Autobiography, Rory Best
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London Hodder and Stoughton, 2020 ISBN9781529362404This is a cut above the average sport autobiography because of the honesty with which Rory Best addresses some of the difficult issues in professional sport and gives insights into a life that few people really understand. As Best writes, as early as the fourth page, “The only people who really get it are the players, and the entire wider management and all our families. Because they live it. Every day”.
Despite having played in 124 internationals, captaining his country and being selected for the British and Irish Lions, Best admits that he has never really conquered his feelings of insecurity. He has, rather, learned to use it to his advantage. He quotes teammate, Darren Cave’s view, the foundation stone of his success and longevity had been fear. “You walk into Ulster every day and look across at Rob Herring [my rival hooker at the club] and say ‘Today is the day that I need to make sure you don’t get ahead of me’. He admits to spending very little time with the other hookers in the Ireland squad, seeing them more as rivals than teammates.
Best is deeply honoured to have captained his country on 38 occasions. However, he also addresses the issue of captaining Ireland, as an Ulsterman, who sees his nationality as British. He is frustrated with the criticism he has received and the implication that he is less committed than if he were “properly” Irish.
He acknowledges the sacrifices of his wife, Jodie, who balances being a mother and a teacher while protecting Rory from anything which might distract him from his own career.
He is very honest in his assessment of Lions’ tours. While delighted to have the opportunity, he openly addresses the difficulties he had to face – like the feeling that no matter what he did in training, he had no chance of making the team for the internationals. He makes an interesting argument that fairness in selection will only be achieved through having in the Lions’ coaching staff, a representative from each country.
For those who love the technicalities of forward play, there is an excellent chapter on the difficulties of throwing into the line-out – a perceived weakness of Best’s - and what actually happens in the scrum.
One thing which surprised me was his account of some heavy drinking sessions, which I would have thought no longer had a place in elite rugby.
An excellent book which I recommend highly.