London Scottish have pulled off a major coup by signing former Ireland international Neil Best.
The 34-year-old flanker has joined Scottish from Worcester Warriors on a two-year deal after turning down approaches from clubs in Ireland and France.
But, after looking director of rugby Simon Amor square in the eye, Best liked what he saw and had no hesitation in joining the Scottish Championship dream.
Best has 18 international caps, 122 appearances for Ulster, 50 appearances for Northampton Saints and 61 appearances for the Warriors under his belt – all of which means he brings vast experience to the Scottish back row.
But Best’s career is not without controversy, having been banned by the RFU in 2008 for 18 weeks for reckless play, and being handed a 17-month ban from driving after being found guilty of drink-driving in 2010.
However, these episodes have moulded Best in to the father, husband, player and team-mate that is today – one that is ready to give his all in the name of the Scottish Championship plan.
National pride: Neil Best made 18 appearances in the green of his homeland
He said: “The ban was me five years ago. I was not so much young, but I was stupid and immature.
“When I was in Ulster, pretty much every week there was a fight in the training session and I was involved in it.
“You were so raw and keen, and you thought you were right all the time. You were so passionate.
“I still hold that passion. But, as you get longer in the tooth, you think ‘Let’s beat up other people, let’s not beat up team-mates – let’s wait until Saturday and beat them up’.
“That took a while for me to understand.
"The RFU ban probably extended my career in giving me four-and-a-half months off rugby, albeit it doesn’t look good.
“They found me guilty of being reckless as opposed to eye gouging, which I still contest, and it was a ridiculous ban for that charge.
“But I have changed as a person now. I would not consider myself a dirty player – I am not out to deliberately target someone in a malicious way.
"Don’t get me wrong, if I can tackle someone in a legitimate way that hurts someone, I will do that, that’s my aim – to hurt people legitimately.
Experience in a Scottish shirt: Neil Best has signed a two-year deal at the Athletic Ground
“I appreciate it when someone does the same to me, because I recognise the skill and competitiveness.
“I don’t want people to think of me as a dirty player. I want people to think I am fair and firm, that they would like to have me on their team and that they don’t like to play against me. I would consider that a compliment.”
Best started his rugby career with home-town Malone RFC before signing with Ulster and eventually winning his first Ireland cap as a replacement during a defeat to New Zealand at Lansdowne Road in November 2005 – he would go on to score 10 international points.
Although he would answer the call if ever it came, Best is under no illusions that his Ireland career is over and instead revels in the pride of having worn the green shirt.
He said: “If Ireland phoned me and asked me if I want to play, of course I would, but that is not going to happen because they have a wealth of riches in the background and they need to look to the future – why play a guy at my age, albeit that I have five more From back page
years left in me? This is the weird thing – people assume I am past it, but I did not start playing until I was 23, so I have only had 11 years and I have not had many injuries. But, as soon as you tell people your age, that puts them off.”
Tough and uncomprising: Neil Best in action for Ireland, Worcester and Northampton
Best cites international wins over South African and Australian touring sides as career highlights, as well as appearing in the 2007 World Cup.
But it is the Heineken Cup that, since leaving Northampton Saints in 2010, Best misses the most.
“There is so much riding on the Heineken Cup games, and you’re up against some of the best clubs in Europe.
“They were always special games, and the ones that stay in the memory.”
With such an illustrious playing career, Best’s step down to the Championship may come as a surprise, but that is where the steely determination of London Scottish’s ambitions won him over.
“I was introduced to Simon via a mutual friend, and he told me about the club’s ambitions and their desire to move forward to become a top four Championship side,” Best said.
“It was the same when I met David Reid, the chairman. They both showed a fervent desire to play higher than they are. I looked into their eyes and they showed real desire that they wanted to do well – that was inspiring.
“The other factor in my joining was that, as much I love rugby and wish I could play forever, that is not going to happen and I have to think about the future.
“Scottish have made a pledge to me that they will explore the connections they have outside the club to help with a career beyond rugby.
“I have been doing work experience here and there to find out what I am good at. I have a young family and need to think about how I will provide for them when the rugby finishes.”