"This feels like the right time for me to go out on my terms," said Ulster and Ireland captain Rory Best, who has confirmed that he will retire after the Rugby World Cup in Japan.

The hooker will bow out with a hugely impressive list of honours, having spent 15 seasons at the top level for club and country.

Best began his rugby development at Banbridge RFC, and also played at Portadown College and Belfast Harlequins RFC en route to the professional game.

The Ireland captain made his competitive debut for Ulster in 2004 and has amassed 219 appearances to date, scoring 23 tries, while he was a key member of the squad which won the Celtic League title in 2005/06.

The veteran has amassed 116 appearances for his country (10 tries) and has helped Ireland to win the Six Nations Championship on four occasions, including two Grand Slam successes, captaining Ireland to glory last year.

Best led Ireland to their first ever win against New Zealand in 2016 and was a member of the British & Irish Lions squad for the 2013 and 2017 tours to Australia and New Zealand respectively.

"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," said Best.

"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. 

"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, Ulster’s Operations Director, Bryn Cunningham said: "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."