Thursday 19 September 2019

Failure of alternatives means Rory is still best

Rory Best. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
Rory Best. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
David Kelly

David Kelly

Depending upon how you discriminate - that is if you deign to care in the first place - Ireland's rugby team is either temporarily mired in crisis or permanently lodged in stasis.

This being sport of course, and the familiar Irish manner of lurching hilariously from one extreme to the other, many will harbour renewed faith once Wales are summarily dispatched in the latest meaningless warm-up game this weekend.

In a pre-planned gambit, which seemed hardly necessary to devalue an already worthless exercise, Warren Gatland and Joe Schmidt have concocted a plan whereby they will further hoodwink the public by co-operating in selection for the first of two successive non-contests.

And so Wales will field a mish-mash of mostly second-string players.

However, Schmidt's plans have been rocked by last Saturday's humiliation on the old cabbage patch, even if the response to the defeat has veered towards hysteria in many areas.

He would have been closer than ever to his 31-man squad selection before Twickenham but events there have prompted a re-think.

Suddenly, he must re-evaluate not merely a few key elements of his final travelling party but also the physical, mental and emotional health of those who remain.

Top of the list is Rory Best.

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The coach pointedly departed from routine to defend his captain, amongst other issues, at a hastily-scheduled press appearance yesterday.

PR gurus will assess this was good business by a man in charge; sceptical players might wonder why a head coach should be bothered delivering a media message when there are more pertinent issues to address.

The Best conundrum is intriguing.

With the favoured second-row pairing likely to return, the coach deems it necessary to play his captain back into form, an opportunity now clearly afforded in a clash against a fitful Welsh.

The original plan, though, would surely have been to wait until the send-off in the Aviva.

However, with a stronger Welsh side, harnessed by the best lineout operator in the business, Alun Wyn Jones, might this inflict even more doubt in frazzled Irish minds?

Even if Schmidt decides to keep Best (below) in bench reserve this weekend, with Niall Scannell starting, that means Sean Cronin and Rob Herring are denied a final chance to shine before Schmidt finalises his squad.

It would seem harsh to sacrifice their potential advancement just because the captain is having a wobbler.

Then again, as Gordon D'Arcy pointed out yesterday, there are two valid reasons why Best deserves a shot at redemption.

And he also feels the 37-year-old's situation is not analogous to that which faced the Leinster centre when he tried - and failed - to convince Schmidt he deserved a shot at a fourth World Cup in 2015.

"It would be remiss of people to draw parallels between Rory's situation and mine. I played rugby for six months too long. Without a shadow of a doubt.

"Nobody is talking about Rory's athletic ability, they're talking about a few missed lineouts, so that needs to be put into a bit of perspective.

"So, his qualities as a leader, his scrummaging strength behind Devin Toner and James Ryan, all those things come into it and he needs a fair crack alongside his preferred pack.

"But Niall Scannell will also get a go and will need to stake his claim if he gets the chance.

"It's easy to look at the problems but those who have come in for Rory haven't really taken hold of that number two jersey."

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