Ask Lee Best about rugby and he’ll tell you in a breath. It’s a fickle game. Not everyone is built to share the same philosophical outlook, particularly after Warriors’ disappointing start to the season. But, then, not everyone has learnt the hard way the harsh reality that, one minute, you can be flying, and the next your whole world can come crashing down.
Between making his debut for Bristol in 1999, and arriving at Sixways as one of John Brain’s 2006 summer signings, the 28-year-old’s career included caps at every level up to England A, and a spell in the senior squad. Trouble is, it was also blighted by knee, groin and hamstring injuries that saw him endure 11 operations – and the rehab that went with each – in two-and-a-half years.
That’s why he’s happy to be playing his part in the bargain that his director of rugby strikes with new recruits who arrive with a point to prove: we’ll improve you, you improve the squad.
“It was traumatic for me, both mentally and physically,” Lee says of that injury ordeal. “But the one thing I never tried to lose sight was what I could bring if I was fit and I was playing.”
His target when he decided to move north was predictably simple. He wanted game time and a chance to put his career back on track.
“My last year at Bristol wasn’t a very happy time for me. At Bath, I was pretty happy with the way I played, but it was keeping fit. My main aim for this season was to try and nail down a place and become established as a player. I’ve got things to give to Worcester, and I know that Worcester has a lot to give to me. I’ve had the luck of the draw so far, but who knows what could be round the corner.”
Nine starts in 12 matches, after so long out, is the kind of thing he was after, even if it hasn’t coincided with Worcester’s best sequence of results as a Premiership club.
So, while he says he’s been “very, very happy” in himself since arriving in God’s Country, losing has been hard to cope with, as it always is for a professional sportsman and supporter alike.
“The only out-and-out bad game for us was Bristol,” he nods. “We were awful and we fully admit that. Since then we’ve strung together some good games. But winning’s a habit as much as losing is.”
When he signed at Sixways, he’s happy to admit, some people had pre-conceived ideas of what kind of person was about to walk into the so-called West Wing dressing room.
In his Off the Ball column, Matt Powell named Lee and Kai Horstmann as the two Warriors he’d have wanted on Apollo 13 with him. Kai because he’s practical, Lee because he’s a “complex but amusing guy”. He’s happy with the description.
“A lot of people think I’m a bit of a flash git, but when you get to know me – I’m not saying that everyone will change their mind – I hope they’d think differently of me. Yeah, I am pretty complex, but I am airy-fairy too. I live in my own world sometimes. I’m a live-and-let-live kind of person.”
If he’s certain of himself, he’s also sure that the Sixways squad has what it takes to put the “silly errors and over-eagerness” behind them and rise up the table.
“The boys get on very well and that shows. Effort and fight and what the club stands for, we have that in bags full. We’re all pulling in the right direction. It’s trying to keep patient. We don’t deserve to be at the bottom of the league, if we’re going on abilities. As it is, we’re there. It’s up to us to put that right.”
Today’s match against Saints will be his first experience of the special atmosphere that exists between the two clubs and sets of supporters. He’s played in enough West Country derbies to know how electric special occasions can be, and he’s expecting the same today.
“It’s why you want to play rugby. We’ve been fortunate to come out on the winning side against Northampton in the past few years, and long may it continue. They’re a very good side, but we are too.”