Teachers look back on schooldays of newly-confirmed international rugby skipper Best when sporting star took first steps towards a successful career

Rory Best’s rise to the role of Ireland captain has roots within his rugby schooldays in Tandragee and Portadown.

Rory was confirmed last week as skipper of the national squad ahead of the RBS 6 Nations.

It marks the latest honour for a player who developed his early love of the game in the colours of Tandragee Junior High School and Portadown College.

“Our congratulations go to Rory and the Best family, we are all certainly very proud of this latest achievement,” said David Gillespie, the Tandragee Junior High School principal. “Rory and his brother, Simon, have both been very generous over the years in terms of giving something back.

“Simon was special guest at a recent school prize night and Rory presented a gift signed by the Ireland squad to celebrate our 50th anniversary in 2013.

“Those are just two examples and that support extends to numerous other areas.

“It is a wonderful honour for the player and proud moment for the area as Rory is, of course, not only a past pupil of Tandragee but also Poyntzpass Primary School.

“We have been delighted to follow and support Rory’s career with Ulster and Ireland, especially this latest accolade.”

David was also a teacher at Portadown College during Rory’s teenage years.

“Rory had total commitment to his sport, even at an early age,” said David. “Those promising signs were obvious and family support played a key role in how everything developed.

“We have photographs of the Bests within the school and certainly Rory’s news should act as a wonderful inspiration to our current pupils.”

Andrew Symington, the head of boys’ PE at Portadown College, admits Rory’s confirmation as international captain featured in his weekend team talk ahead of the Schools’ Cup tie.

“There is a real buzz around the school at the minute because of the progress by our rugby teams,” said Andrew. “Rory’s news will give everyone an extra kick and every student can take on board the example of what can happen if you work hard and make the most of your talents.

“I was a teacher in Tandragee and Portadown College during Rory’s schooldays as, initially, an outhalf.

“Rory has a great left foot and always took our conversions.

“When it came to trials for Ulster Schools we had a conversation about moving him to hooker and he never looked back.

“One tour of Australia with Irish Schools was especially memorable as they won every game, maybe nine or 10 fixtures.

“He would keep in touch with the progress of the College as often as possible and has been a regular supporter down the years at Schools’ Cup games.

“He has also helped out in the past with coaching sessions.”

Simon is a former Ireland captain - with brother Mark and sister Rebecca also displaying impressive sporting skills as teenagers.

“Mark was a College rugby captain at one stage and Rebecca played hockey for the school,” said Andrew. “There is a rich and proud sporting tradition for the Best family.

“Rory and the family have always been supportive of the school.

“We have already sent off a letter of congratulations to Rory and are in discussions over a presentation or official recognition down the line.”

Best’s sense of community spirit and desire to put something back into sport at grassroots level prove evident in his role as ambassador of the Portadown Panthers learning disability tag rugby squad.

“The players, parents and officials of Portadown Panthers are very proud and pleased with the announcement that our club ambassador was named Ireland captain for the 6 Nations,” said Willie Gribben of the Chambers Park-based learning disability tag rugby group. “Rory loves his visits to the Panthers’ training sessions and previously brought down the 6 Nations trophy.

“The players are really looking forward to the next visit by Rory and, hopefully, he will have the trophy!

“We will all be cheering on Rory and Ireland.”