Saturday 25 January 2020

Les Kiss: Rory Best's Lions call-up long overdue

Duncan Bech

Ireland acting head coach Les Kiss and captain Peter O'Mahony today welcomed Rory Best's call-up by the British and Irish Lions, but claimed he should have been in the original squad.

Best was the biggest name omission when the 37-man touring party for Hong Kong and Australia was announced on April 30 with the Ulster hooker losing out to England's Dylan Hartley.

But a twist of fate has given the 30-year-old his chance after Hartley was banned for 11 weeks for abusing referee Wayne Barnes during Northampton's Aviva Premiership defeat by Leicester on Saturday, resulting in his exclusion from the Lions.

Kiss, speaking in advance of Ireland's two-Test tour of North America which departs Dublin on Saturday, saluted Best as a worthy Lion whose presence will concern Australia.

"It's something that all of us in this island thought was deserved in the first place, but that's the way it happens in selection sometimes," the Australian said.

"We're extremely happy for what Rory's got, it's great reward for everything he's done over the last four years. He's been immense for Ulster and Ireland.

"I do know that he's the type of player Australia will hate to play against and if he gets his chance he'll take it."

Best was originally chosen to lead the tour to North America - Jamie Heaslip, Brian O'Driscoll and Paul O'Connell are with the Lions - but that post has now been passed to Peter O'Mahony.

The Munster flanker, who has been capped 14 times, is relishing the role and feels that justice has been done after Best joined the elite of British and Irish rugby.

"It's a huge honour for me and my family. I was delighted by the call and delighted for Rory to get his chance with the Lions," the 23-year-old said.

"We all thought he deserved it in the first place and we should have been sending text messages of congratulation on April 30.

"This is an exciting Ireland squad with a good mix of youth and experience, so it should be a fun and interesting trip.

"Some things are different when you're captain, but on the pitch you just do what your normally do."

Kiss, who is in temporary charge of Ireland until new head coach Joe Schmidt takes charge later in the summer, has backed O'Mahony to thrive as skipper.

"It was noted from a young age that Peter had leadership skills and those skills have come through often for Munster and during under-age rugby for Ireland," he said.

"It's a great opportunity for Peter to feel what it's like to take a team to a different environment. I believe he will handle it very well."

Ireland will make a decision on Stuart Olding's ankle injury on Thursday with James Downey of Munster poised to replace the Ulster centre if he is ruled out of the tour.

Prop Mike Ross sat out training today with a minor dead leg, while Leinster's Sean Cronin has replaced Best as hooker.

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