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Best feeling his age as new faces make their mark in green jersey

Rory Best. Photo: PA
Rory Best. Photo: PA

Rúaidhrí O'Connor

When Rory Best made his Six Nations debut against Wales in 2006, James Ryan was nine years old, while Jacob Stockdale, Joey Carbery and Andrew Porter were 10.

With Jamie Heaslip set to make a comeback from his back injury after a year out next month, the Ireland captain is not quite the last man standing of his generation but he is beginning to feel his age as he rubs shoulders in a dressing-room full of players born in the 1990s.

Yet, he says he has not had to change his captaincy style to suit the young players coming through the academies even if they can't quite believe how old he is.

"Nothing's really changed," he said.

"You just get a bit older and whenever you get into those moments, when you deliver your points seriously... when we were warming up to go out training in Athlone, one of them was looking at a picture of Robbie Henshaw lifting the Connacht Senior Schools Cup in 2012.

"And I looked at it and went, 'Oh my goodness, I'd been to two World Cups in 2012' and then Jack McGrath, who was lying on the ground, said, 'And when did you leave school, 2005?'.

Gasp

"And I went, 'Actually, in 2000' and I think there was just a collective gasp in room, so you get moments like that. That's when the fact that these guys were born so late hits home.

"But I think the message is the message and all that changes over the years is, rather than you being the one being told the message, you're now the on delivering it.

"It is frightening when you see how good some of these guys are, so young, but ultimately as powerful as they are or as good at rugby as they are, there will come moments when they need guidance and they need a little bit of help through a game or through the preparation for a game and that's what you've got to be there for."

When he first packed down in the Six Nations, he had the experience of Marcus Horan and John Hayes alongside him and he will have a similar role for Porter and Ryan in the tight five this afternoon.

"It doesn't seem that long ago, that game," he said.

"And I think when you come in, and it's something that probably being on the flip side of it now, you take for granted, I think you come in to play alongside two players like that and obviously there was a fair bit of slagging during the week.

"But when you get to the serious times in the meetings and the scrums, and even a little bit of downtime... John Hayes doesn't like to say much and he doesn't like to say much in front of people, but occasionally when you're with him and it's just the two of you, he says something like an encouraging word.

"And it's small little things that, now that I'm on the other side, you do take a little bit for granted.

"You take a little bit for granted that Porter will come in and just will be at the same level of experience and that sometimes you think that a small bit of work here or there maybe takes a little bit of your time, and maybe you don't think about it again.

"But how much it can mean to someone with less experience, and that's what you've got to keep remembering back to."

Irish Independent

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