Alan Quinlan recalls the moment he realised Rory Best was Irish captain material
Irish Independent columnist Alan Quinlan has recalled the almost exact moment in time he realised Rory Best was an Irish captain in waiting.
Ulster hooker Best was, of course, named as Paul O’Connell’s successor by Joe Schmidt on Wednesday, when the Kiwi announced a 35-panel for the forthcoming Six Nations.
The decision to appoint Best as skipper has been almost universally lauded by the media, players and fans alike and the Munster legend is no different.
Quinlan and Best both travelled with Ireland to France for what proved a disastrous World Cup campaign in 2007, and he remembers a quiet but determined character. However, he certainly didn’t think Best would go on to become Ireland’s most capped hooker. His opinion radically changed following Ireland’s narrow victory over Georgia.
“At this stage I was still only getting to know Rory Best. Simon, his brother, was someone I was better acquainted with, having toured with him in Japan in 2005. Rory? When I first became aware of him, I certainly didn't think, 'Future Ireland captain here, guys'," says wrote Quinlan in his Irish Independent column.
“In fact, I didn't even think he'd have much of an international career. That all changed in Bordeaux, though, when he was withdrawn 27 minutes before the end with a dislocated thumb. 'That's six weeks out, isn't it'? I said. 'That's your World Cup over'?
"I'll be grand," he replied.
“Grand? How can you be grand when you dislocate your thumb? It happened to me a month later. I was out for two months, forced to have an operation. And Rory? He missed one match, putting some fancy strapping on his hand and putting himself through the pain barrier to get back in time for the Argentina game, 19 days later."
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Quinlan could never be accused of being soft but he was astounded by Best’s resolve. Something he witnessed again as a pundit when Ireland came agonisingly close to a very first win over the All Blacks at the Aviva Stadium in 2013.
It was then he saw a player with the sort of bravery and leadership showcased by Brian O’Driscoll and Paul O’Connell over the years and knew that, should Best ever be offered the role, he’d be more than capable of continuing the legacy of great Irish captains.
“I watched, with a degree of awe, when he played for a few minutes against the All Blacks in 2013 with a broken arm, remembering how - when injured - he cleaned out a ruck with his good hand. At that moment in time he reminded me of Paul O'Connell and Brian O'Driscoll.
“Is he the right choice to lead Ireland? Absolutely, he is. While there were viable alternatives, Rory was the Best candidate and not just because he leads from the front and not just because he is ready to battle in the trenches.”
"His personality suits this job. O'Connell is a hard act to follow and you don't just need a level of self-confidence but also a degree of self-awareness. You cannot be aloof. You cannot swan around the team hotel when you are captain. You have to be able to mix."