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Rory Best will bring the curtain down on his playing career after the Rugby World Cup in Japan.
The Ireland and Ulster hooker had already signalled his intention to retire from international rugby at the World Cup, but he had hinted that he remained open to playing another season with Ulster.
He had planned to hold talks with Ulster head coach Dan McFarland and Operations Director Bryn Cunningham to discuss another season with the province but he has decided to retire from professional rugby when his current contract expires later in the year.
“It is with mixed feelings that I announce my retirement from Ulster Rugby as of the end of this season,” said Best.
“This feels like the right time for me to go out on my terms, a luxury for which I feel very privileged.
“I am very excited for the end of the season with Ulster Rugby and for the upcoming World Cup with Ireland, both of which I hope to finish with a massive high, playing at the top of my game.
Best made his competitive debut for Ulster in 2004 and in his 15 years at the province he has amassed 219 appearances, scoring 23 tries.
He was a member of the Ulster squad that won the Celtic League title in 2005/06, while at international level he has win the Six Nations four times with Ireland, including the Grand Slam twice.
The Ireland skipper has 116 caps to his name and famously skippered his country to victory over New Zealand in 2016 and 2018.
“In my 15 years at this brilliant club, I have been lucky to have met, played alongside, been coached by and supported by many great people, and I would like to thank every individual for the time they have invested in me since 2004," Best added.
“I grew up supporting Ulster Rugby, have been fortunate to play and captain Ulster Rugby, and now look forward to supporting Ulster Rugby in the future with my family.”
Paying tribute to Best, Cunningham added: “No player representing Ulster Rugby has had a more profound impact in the professional era than Rory.
“When Rory enters the room, everyone waits for his words. On the training pitch, he demands high standards at all times. During a match, players turn to Rory for leadership and direction. He has been our all-encompassing talismanic figure for more than a decade.
“Rory’s ability to not only stay at the top, but also fight his way through adversity, shows the strength of character he possesses.
“The ever-present support of the Best family on the side-lines, in particular Jodie, Ben, Penny and Richie, encapsulates Rory as the ultimate family man. We know that they will continue to follow Ulster Rugby for many years to come.
“Rory will justifiably go down as one of the greatest legends of Ulster and Irish Rugby.”
Best is currently sidelined with the ankle ligament damage he sustained in Ulster's Heineken Champions Cup defeat to Leinster but is hoping to return before the end of the season.
Ulster play Leinster in the Guinness PRO14 on Saturday, 27 April live on eir sport 1 [kick-off 5.15pm]. Subscribe here
Image: Inpho Photography