Monday 26 August 2019

Veteran status no concern for evergreen Best as he happily goes on captaining his country for another season

Ulster hooker admits it was an easy decision to continue his key role with Ireland side

Best: Leads Ireland into battle again. Photo: Sportsfile
Best: Leads Ireland into battle again. Photo: Sportsfile
Cian Tracey

Cian Tracey

As far as Rory Best is concerned there was no debate - as soon as Joe Schmidt asked him to continue as Ireland captain for another season, it was a done deal.

The Ulster hooker has done a fine job since taking over from Paul O'Connell but given that he will be 37 by the time the World Cup rolls around in two years, one wonders if Schmidt was tempted to look at one of the young pretenders.

The Kiwi has stuck with Best and while few would have any qualms with that decision, the situation will nevertheless be reviewed again at the end of the season.

"Look, I understand why people want to talk about my age," Best admitted.

"It's not really something I'm interested in. Joe asked me to captain the side again for this season and I'm very happy to do it.

"Until I feel that my body starts to let me down... The hamstring injury can happen to anyone at any time. If anything, for me, it is probably a sign I'm getting faster if I'm getting it at this stage.

"I can understand why people want to have the debate. For me, when Joe asked me, that was it - dead and buried.

"If at any time I feel I'm not playing well enough to be the captain or I feel that things are starting to let me down, you step forward and you say, 'I've had enough'. But, I will be a long, long time retired when I eventually do it.

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"Okay, I didn't get a Test start in the summer. But, I feel I played better on that Lions tour than I did four years ago. I'm not suggesting I will go on for another four years. I feel I am playing well enough."

Best has seen plenty of changes in the Ireland set-up since he made his debut back in 2005 and he is adamant that there is enough quality in the current squad to replicate past glories.

"There's a lot of very, very good players and a lot of very good young players," he maintained.

"I think when you see what the provinces are doing, when you look at the performance of the provinces in Europe, Leinster with those two wins and the changes they can make week on week and still perform, Munster, with a very, very young team, nearly all of them from Munster or Irish-qualified is very heartening.

"It's when you go in every year for the start of a new season and it's just so many new faces, it is worrying when you're old but it's exciting at the same time. And when these guys step up... the beauty about being young is that you don't have the same fear as people who have been around a lot.

"Look, there's a little bit of fear because you don't know what to expect, but at the same time when you're young you feel that you can do anything, because you haven't experienced some of the low points some of the rest of them have.

"It's exciting and we're hopefully a lot better covered than we would have been for injuries.

"I think probably in the past if you had taken players of the calibre of Jared Payne, Keith Earls and Garry Ringrose out of our squad we would have really struggled. But now if you look at those positions, there's plenty of talent there."

For all that he has achieved throughout his career, Best is still waiting to get his hands on silverware as skipper.

There may not be any trophies up for grabs this month but the foundations can certainly be laid as the Six Nations comes into view.

"Ultimately, the highlights in my career are those two championships, in '14 and '15, because we won silverware. To do that as captain would be absolutely massive," Best added.

"Something I've never done as captain is go up to lift a piece of silverware leading a team and it would be something that would, that's the dream.

"My eldest is seven. He's out in the garden kicking the ball around and at the end of all the games he's always the guy that walks up and lifts the trophy.

"That's what young kids dream of doing and it's no different whether you're five, 15 or 35. That is what you want to do but ultimately you've got to take everything back to your role within the team to make sure the team perform."

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