Rory Best meets fans at the Winter Fair…on the way to a South African rugby summit

Showgoers at this year’s RUAS Winter Fair might have felt themselves doing a doubletake as they saw international rugby star (and Armagh beef farmer) Rory Best strolling through the stands of the dairy show.

A lucky rugby fan was given a money-can’t-buy experience – an overnight stay for two at the four-star Titanic Hotel and a private lunch with the Ireland legend – at this year’s Royal Ulster Winter Fair.

The Dillon family travelled all the way from Galway to meet Best – who is the only Irish captain to have a win over Australia, New Zealand and South Africa – as part of a competition run by livestock management software company Herdwatch.

Winner John Dillon and wife Cáit exchanged farming tips with Rory, while kids Jack (7), Beth (5) and Joe (3) got to practice their tackles with the veteran hooker.

Both men had plenty to talk about with both keeping around 60 suckler cows on their farms in different corners of the island.

AgriLand’s Rachel Martin was also among the lucky few to catch up with the rugby all-star. Stay tuned for her exclusive interview.

Fans queued up for selfies and autographs at the Herdwatch stand, where Best took part in a question and answer session with Mervyn Harvey, the agri-tech firm’s head of commercial.

Harvey teased Best about becoming a pensioner at 37.

“I think it’s funny to say I’m 37 and retired – I think you just have to enjoy it and see what challenges there are now. You’ll not have the same challenges you have in rugby; things will be very different. You will have to find another way to find that high,” Rory replied.

Best answered questions about his early farming memories, diet, rugby training regime, and spoke of how he had made lifelong friends through professional sport.

“It’s nice to be home again. I haven’t had that much time to get my feet back on the ground here,” he said.

“There are so many people that you pass by, but you’re kept busy. You’re away with Ireland a lot, so when you do get home you just want a break and to spend that time with your family.

The great thing about the rural community is that they understand. They don’t get annoyed.

“They enjoy going to the games to support me and they say they don’t mind because in a couple of years they’ll be able to go along with me.”

But it was a flying visit for Best, who despite his passion for farming and recent retirement from sport, still finds himself tied up with major rugby commitments.

The hooker jetted off to South Africa the same afternoon for an international rugby athletes’ conference – all in a day’s work for the Ulsterman!