Saturday 18 November 2017

'O'Connell a rock for everyone to lean on – we missed him in Six Nations'

Best convinced Munster totem would have cured out-of-sorts line-out in ill-fated campaign

Paul O'Connell
Paul O'Connell
Conor George

Conor George

RORY BEST highlighted the absence of Paul O'Connell from the Six Nations this season as one of the main reasons for Ireland's line-out issues.

O'Connell was recovering from back surgery and missed Ireland's campaign. Best shipped a lot of criticism for the misfiring set-piece, but believes that had O'Connell been fit and available, Ireland wouldn't have struggled as badly.

"We didn't have Paul O'Connell, which is always going to be a massive loss," said Best.

"It's one of those things. We lost a bit of timing in the game against England and in the Scotland game they read us so well, it was hard to get over the two boys.

"Once you start to lose a couple, everyone's nerves start to go a little. Little things start to creak a little bit and you don't throw it the way you would when you're on top of the ground.

"It spiralled a wee bit in the last three games. It was disappointing we didn't have the experience of Paulie to lean on there."

Best is one of the most dedicated players in Ireland and his elevation to the Lions is no more than he deserved. The fact that Ireland slumped in the Six Nations hurt him as much as anybody, especially as he was central to Ireland's line-out strategy and that was not as successful as it can be.

"What was disappointing was that we had, by and large, the same pack we had in New Zealand when in three Tests we barely lost a line-out," he said.

"When the confidence starts to go, that's when you need the likes of O'Connell, who has been there, done it and he's a rock for everyone to lean on."

Best recalled the range of emotions he went through, from his initial omission from the Lions squad to his belated call-up the morning after losing the Pro12 final with Ulster.

"To miss out on the initial selection was bitterly disappointing, but I had to try and get over it a bit quicker than I would have done if Ulster hadn't been involved in such big games," he said.

"I had to try and for the team's sake dust myself down as quickly as I could and get back in, but there is so much hype about it and you can't avoid it.

"You do get disappointed again and you have to keep trying to pick yourself up.

"Obviously, I was very disappointed at losing the Pro12 final and then I went to the complete opposite extreme when getting the phone call to say they wanted me in London on Monday morning to fly out to Hong Kong.

"I don't think there has ever been a higher high than that for me in rugby."

Best makes his Lions debut today against Western Force.

Meanwhile, Australia great Michael Lynagh admits he is growing "a little bit worried" over the Wallabies' prospects.

World Cup-winning fly-half Lynagh, who played in the 2-1 series defeat to the 1989 Lions, fears the tourists could inflict a whitewash upon the Wallabies.

"The Lions could win the series 3-0, yes," Lynagh said.

Irish Independent

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