Last minute Lions call-up has made it all worthwhile for Rory

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It’s the stuff dreams are made of for Poyntzpass international superstar Rory Best.

After the heartache of being controversially left out of Warren Gatland’s initial Lions squad for this summer’s Tour, a remarkable twist of fate has found him a place on the plane to Hong Kong.

Dylan Hartley, who had been selected ahead of Best, was handed an 11-week ban by the RFU at the weekend, meaning that the Banbridge clubman was given an 11th hour lifeline.

Best, who was still getting over the loss of the defeat to Leinster in the Pro12 final at the weekend when he learnt the news, said that it hadn’t sunk in that he was going.

“It was hard when I didn’t make the initial squad, because it is everyone’s ambition, it is everyone’s ultimate goal to qualify to play for them,” he said. “To now be selected is a massive honour.

“It hasn’t fully sunk in yet, it is hard to describe because it is the ultimate for a rugby player.

“To finally be selected makes playing professional rugby worthwhile. All the lows that you get and the knocks and bumps, it more than makes up for them and for a few weeks ago when I thought that the chance had gone.

“[Saturday’s defeat] was bitterly disappointing from a team point of view. From a personal view it has lifted me out of a bit of despair after the game.”

The hooker has been boosted over the past few weeks by messages of support from his initial exclusion. This is his opportunity, he believes, to repay that faith.

“When you don’t make squads, you doubt your ability and the way that you are playing. I was fairly happy with the way that I was playing, but the support that I have had over the past number of weeks, not just from friends and family but also from the Ulster Rugby players and Management and from the fans and general public has meant a lot to me.

“Now, to finally be there, it’s hard to put into words, it makes it all worthwhile. The past few weeks, with the receptions at Ravenhill, everywhere I go, everyone wants to wish me well. Now, to finally be there, it is great.

“There will be 37 players on the plane to Hong Kong aiming to make the test squad and I am no different. I am as ambitious as everyone else. You have to go there and play your best rugby, put your hand up and see where that takes you.”