Wednesday 7 December 2016

'There is no doubt Rory Best is a contender to captain the Lions'

Armagh native speaks of pride as he joins elite club of Ireland stars against Australia

Published 26/11/2016 | 02:30

Rory Best, centre, is a popular man with Ireland's players
Rory Best, centre, is a popular man with Ireland's players

Ireland defence coach Andy Farrell believes Rory Best has the credentials needed to captain the Lions in New Zealand this summer.

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The former England international, who is expected to be named as Warren Gatland's assistant for a second successive tour when the Lions coach names his backroom team on Wednesday week, spoke glowingly about the Ulster hooker who wins his 100th cap for his country today.

Best's only Lions experience was a gruelling one as he was left out of the 2013 touring party and was called up as a late replacement for the suspended Dylan Hartley.

He endured a crisis of confidence on tour, playing four non-Test matches and missing out on selection for the series win over today's opponents Australia.

Rory Best Picture: PA
Rory Best Picture: PA

The 34-year-old faces competition from Hartley, Alun Wyn Jones and Sam Warburton for the role but is in a strong position having led his side to victory over next June's opponents New Zealand this month.

Ireland were the only Lions contributors who faced the world champion All Blacks and their win in Chicago and subsequent Dublin battle will have enhanced many claims for selection.

And Farrell believes Best has done himself no harm whatsoever.

"There's no doubt that he's a contender when he's doing as good a job as he is for his national team and his national team is doing pretty well. He's a big part of that so he has to be right up there, doesn't he?" he said.

"It's just what he's been through. As a player, the ups and downs of international rugby and when you've got 100 caps you've certainly been through a hell of a lot.

"Your experience of how you deal not just with your own game and the players around you for the feel of the game in the white-hot heat of the moment is priceless.

"That's what I've been super impressed with, not only is he laying his body on the line but his decision-making and his calmness under pressure in the big games that we've been in, certainly since I've been here in the last six months, has been fantastic to watch.

"That's proper leadership, so anyone who has that skill or that trait has to be up there."

On the eve of his 100th cap, the Ulster hooker cut a calm presence as he spoke about joining an elite club of five Irish centurions alongside his former team-mates Brian O'Driscoll (133), Ronan O'Gara (128), Paul O'Connell (108) and John Hayes (105).

"It (playing for Ireland) means a whole lot, I grew up in very much a rugby-playing family," he said.

"We came down to very much the old-fashioned Lansdowne Road as a family to watch, we went up to the Ulster games as a family to watch.

"To go from that to be immersed in it so much to then get the opportunity to put on the green jersey once was unbelievably special.

"To do it alongside (his brother) Simon at the time with all the family here and do have done it so many times since... every time there is a slightly different feeling as you pull it on.

"I suppose as you go through your career you get more grateful for every time you get to pull it on.

"But I just have a massive amount of pride every time I put on that jersey and to be asked last year to captain Ireland regularly is, look for me there is no greater honour.

"I still remember the first cap. It doesn't seem that long ago. When you get your first cap, it's like a dream come true and all you want to do is the next one so you don't stay on that one cap."

Irish Independent

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