Thursday 22 February 2018

Best insists Ireland can achieve historic victories away to Springboks

Nick Purewal

Rory Best insists Ireland can "create history" by winning Test matches in South Africa for the first time this summer - whoever captains Joe Schmidt's side.

Ulster hooker Best was appointed captain for the RBS 6 Nations in the wake of Paul O'Connell's retirement, guiding boss Schmidt's men through a transitional, injury-stricken campaign. Best remained coy on his chances of captaining Ireland for the three-Test tour of South Africa in June, when Ireland will hope to have Iain Henderson and Peter O'Mahony fit after long-term injury. "There's obviously a fair bit of rugby to play between now and then hopefully back at our provinces," said Best, when quizzed on leading Ireland in South Africa.

"We'll sign out tomorrow and look forward to knocking lumps out of each other for two months. We've now won two games, and we can go to South Africa and try to create history by winning Test matches over there.

"It's been a massive honour to captain Ireland. Here you're surrounded by leaders. Even someone like CJ Stander who made his debut at the start of the Six Nations captains Munster. It's not left to one person, everyone's contributing and we're always trying to be better."

Munster flanker O'Mahony's impending return from knee surgery will not only bolster Ireland's back-row options but also offer boss Schmidt another captaincy option.

O'Mahony is perhaps the most natural long-term successor to O'Connell for Ireland's captaincy, especially in terms of his leadership style.

A "relieved" Schmidt admitted to excitement at the prospect of welcoming back O'Mahony and Henderson for the South Africa tour.

Henderson's recovery from hamstring trouble will add to Ireland's second-row stocks, with Schmidt impressed by Donnacha Ryan's progress over the Six Nations.

"It is exciting to have those guys coming back because they'll hopefully be looking over their shoulder," said Schmidt. "Pete (O'Mahony) was huge for us in the last two Six Nations and his performance in the first 60 minutes against France was immense before he got injured.

"CJ Stander has come in and got better with every game. Pete's probably looking at that going, 'Well, I better roll my sleeves up and keep working hard'. I hope that that's part of the challenge. I really think Donnacha Ryan has grown in the last couple of games, Ultan Dillane obviously we mentioned. Iain Henderson is going to look at the six or the lock position and say, 'I better roll my sleeves up and get working'.

"Transition is permanent, change is permanent. You're always going to be making changes."

Scotland boss Vern Cotter was left to rue the yellow cards he felt cost his side the chance of three successive championship victories for the first time in 20 years. "It wasn't a good start, we acknowledge that," said Cotter. "They held the ball well and we couldn't get our hands back on it."

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