Rory Best has admitted he will jet out to Japan buoyed by the “endorsement” of his captaincy from Saturday’s raucous standing ovation at the Aviva Stadium.
Best signed off in Dublin in style by helping steer Ireland to number one in the world rankings with a 19-10 victory over Wales in his final Test match on home soil.
The 37-year-old will hang up his boots after the World Cup, and he and departing head coach Joe Schmidt were afforded heroes’ acclaim at Saturday’s final whistle.
Best considered resigning the captaincy after public criticism for attending the rape trial of Ulster and Ireland team-mates Paddy Jackson and Stuart Olding in early 2018.
Jackson and Olding were acquitted of all charges but sacked by Ulster, while Best and Ireland produced a Six Nations Grand Slam triumph in what proved a stunning 2018 on the field.
The evergreen hooker’s stewardship came under fire again after Ireland’s record 57-15 loss to England at Twickenham in last month’s World Cup warm-up clash.
After mixing turbulence with glory in three years as skipper, Best conceded that rapturous reception on Saturday has added another spring to his step.
“Whenever you play the sport and you have the highs alongside the lows, you do know what a great reaction or reception is like,” Best told the PA news agency.
“And you always want to try to leave or walk out on your own terms.
“A lot of good friends of mine I played with at the top level never got the opportunity to walk off the pitch at home under their own terms and get that kind of reception.
“I’ve been able to do that now with Ulster at the Kingspan against Connacht, and now with Ireland at the Aviva.
“In the last year or so it’s become quite important to me that I make sure I go out at the top and go out with people remembering me as a quality player and person and not somebody that hung on a year or two too long.
“That is the kind of gamble you run when you get a little bit older. So I’m very happy for that to have come off the way it did.
“That reception, ultimately, that’s as good an endorsement of what you’ve done over a number of years as anything.”
Best assumed the captaincy in 2016 after Paul O’Connell’s injury-enforced retirement.
The farmer’s son from Banbridge has steered Ireland to their maiden two wins over New Zealand to sit alongside the 2018 Grand Slam, and now that first-ever status as the world’s number one ranked Test team.
Ireland will now bid to move past the quarter-finals for the first time at a World Cup, with Best insisting leadership pushes him to new heights – both on and off the pitch.
“My career has always been about trying to make the most of what I have, and there’s been a lot of overcoming adversity,” said Best, speaking as a Specsavers Hearing ambassador.
“There have been some very, very tricky times along the way, but the way I’ve responded to that, I’d like to think that says a lot about me as a person not just as a rugby player.
“In my time as captain I would like to think the greatest emphasis has been on the team, and that has been important to me right from the start.
“It’s about making sure that the people around you can feel comfortable enough to produce their best.
“It’s also something I like doing, and I feel it brings the best out of me, captaining the side.
“Once we fly out we’ll finally be able to focus solely on Scotland.
“It was important we got a few things together in the last couple of games. But we’re still nowhere near where we feel we need to be.
“We’ve still got a lot of work to do, but it’s nice getting on the plane with a bit of confidence back.
“Part of that is improved performances but another part of that is we know how much more we still have.”
:: Ireland captain Rory Best is a Specsavers Hearing ambassador