Captain Best roundly praised by green army full of leaders
Published 12/03/2012 | 05:00
All week the talk had been of a leadership vacuum. O'Driscoll gone. O'Connell gone. Ireland's only World Cup-winning coach gone. O'Brien gone.
Some Irish supporters had painted a picture of a neophyte collective, barely out of short trousers, sporting feathery fluff on their chin.
What a fanciful notion that was.
Ireland only had to turn on the tap for the occasional spurt of activity, accompanied by the inevitability that when Scotland would be poor, they would be very, very poor. This result was never in doubt.
Neither was the ability of a cadre of Irish leadership to emerge from the shadows.
"Sometimes you get a bit frustrated when the lads are out of the squad because people think you can't tie your laces without them," mused Donncha O'Callaghan afterwards.
All around the park, leadership figures surfaced, often in the most unlikely areas -- Peter O'Mahony outplayed a one-time prospective captain, Jamie Heaslip, for example.
Stephen Ferris, whose feats of physicality continue to defy all logic, roomed with O'Mahony all week.
"Peter was great, it was like he'd about 20 or 30 caps under his belt," offered Ferris. "He was really excited to get out there. He did a tremendous job, one crucial turnover close to our own line. He put in a great day's work. There is a bright future there. He gets stuck in; typical Munster, hard as nails."
Donnacha Ryan, earning his first Six Nations start in the stead of one of the form second-rows in world rugby, stole the first two line-outs of a hitherto indomitable set-piece.
"He was great," said O'Callaghan of the man who has been keeping him out of the Munster team all season.
"People kinda think it's down to doing the right thing at the right time, but it's not. It's down to hours of tedious video work and to be fair to him he put it in this week and he got the rewards from it.
"And to be fair he stepped in there into big shoes with no bother at all to him and it was great to see it."
The budding leaders reflected the captaincy of Rory Best, who himself has learned so much from great captains. Crucially, his nerve held in that first half when, despite a poor throw, he trusted himself to put the ball in the corner again, from where he rumbled over for the opening try.
Contrast that with the woeful Scots, drained of belief bit by bit, who kicked for the corner when they should have kicked for goal, and then did the reverse just as they were threatening to apply the most pressure.
Ireland, with Ryan and O'Mahony in the vanguard, just oozed authority beneath the third Irish captain this season.
Ferris, who knows Best better than most, was utterly unsurprised.
"I think his leadership from day one in the camp, all those weeks ago alongside Paul O'Connell, has been great. He's helped out Paul in the last numbers of weeks and he was the perfect man to come in there and lead us out there today," said Ferris.
"I was fortunate enough to be captained by him at Ulster for a few seasons so I know what he is all about. He just says what everyone needs to hear. He doesn't say an awful lot but what he does sinks in. When he needed to say something he did; if nothing needed to be said he just got on with his job.
"There were a lot of leaders out there."
More than the unquestioned dominance of the team, that may prove to be the substantial long-term benefit.