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Flannery ban for rest of Six Nations opens door for Best

Ireland's Rory Best must be in hooker heaven right now.

There was a time, not so long ago, when he was forced to contemplate life without rugby. A persistent pain in the neck, so to speak, was diagnosed as a chronic bulging disc condition last April.

Initially, he had to concede that he was going to miss out the entire 2009/2010 season with the distinct possibility he would have the leave the game he loves in the interests of his health and safety.

In the event of such heartbreak, Best didn't have to go far for counsel and guidance as his older brother Simon's career ended prematurely when he was diagnosed with a heart condition in the aftermath of the 2007 World Cup in France.

"When I had the surgery, I realised that I had come close to never playing again. It is then you start to take the positives from the situation," he stated.

"The whole recovery period was physically challenging, but also mentally challenging. I have had to work hard to get my strength back.


"I always hoped to return before the end of this season, but you always like to give yourself a little more time in case things don't go 100pc to plan".

As the months rolled on Best began to recover confidence in his body. It is a compliment to the Ulster and Ireland medical and rehabilitation staff that he was able to play a part from day one of the Six Nations.

"They helped me to build up my fitness again gradually and made sure that the shoulder was capable of withstanding the necessary pressure before I played any games," he admitted.

"I owe a lot to them."

Now that Jerry Flannery has been sanctioned with a six-week suspension for a blatant kick out at France wing Alexis Palisson, it has propelled Best back into the spotlight, sooner than he could have imagined.

He added: "Nobody enjoys benefiting from a colleague's misfortune, whether it's an injury or something like this. You'd rather win your place on merit."

Is he prepared for the stamina-sapping set-piece work and the aerobic demands of getting around Twickenham for the full 80 minutes on Saturday week? Only time will tell.

"My goal was to perhaps be involved before the end of the Six Nations. So it is great to have been able to come on as a replacement in the opening two games against Italy and France."

Before Twickenham, Ireland coach Declan Kidney has taken the risky decision of releasing Best back to Ulster for Magners League game time in the knowledge that an injury would leave Ireland well short of experience for England.

It is a reasonable stance. Best is badly in need of game time given that he has only played a half for Banbridge in Division Three of the AIB League, a half for Ireland 'A' against England Saxons, half-an-hour against Italy and a quarter against France last Saturday.

It doesn't amount to a hill of beans for what is required to go the distance against what is certain to be a fired-up, monstrous England eight on Saturday week.

Moreover, Best's stamina will be tested to the full as the inexperienced Sean Cronin is next in line for what is, arguably, the most crucial position in the forward unit, especially given Ireland's preference for striking off first phase.

While many of the bit-parts of Ireland's overall game was destroyed or fell apart in Paris, the lineout execution was near perfect in that there was no lost ball and it was delivered smoothly off the top.

Flannery was at the heart of that operation.

Luckily, Best is renowned for his throwing.

However, it will be difficult for him to rediscover his touch and judgement with so few minutes played.

He could do with the booster of clean lineout ball, swift, sure striking at the scrum, a power impact at ruck and maul, sound decision-making and sticky hands for the ball this evening.

One thing is for sure, Ulster's stand-in captain Chris Henry is grinning ear to ear at having his on-field general back to lead the troops in the middle of the front row against the Dragons this evening.

"Having Rory back is huge for us. Just having him back in training is a huge boost for everybody. You can just see everyone lift when he's there," he said.

"The guys have such regard for him, and he sets such a high standard for himself that you can see everybody in the squad just raising their standards, too.

"Having someone of his quality is a massive plus for us. We're dying to get him playing again for us.

"For Rory to have been thrown back into Ireland duty, not having played, just shows you the calibre of the man. Not many players could do that."

It is a measure of the man that he has come back so quickly and so strongly. Apparently, there are not many who could have done what he has done. Then again, it shouldn't come as such a surprise.

After all, the name is Best -- Rory Best. He was shaken, but not beaten.