Sunday 25 February 2018

Best cools three-in-a-row talk

New Ireland captain refusing to think about Six Nations title ahead of Welsh opener

Rory Best: 'We’ve an unbelievably tough start against Wales in Dublin and that’s all we’ll be focused on'. Photo: Sportsfile
Rory Best: 'We’ve an unbelievably tough start against Wales in Dublin and that’s all we’ll be focused on'. Photo: Sportsfile
Ruaidhri O'Connor

Ruaidhri O'Connor

New captain Rory Best is not contemplating the prospect of leading Ireland to a third consecutive Six Nations title after being chosen by Joe Schmidt to replace Paul O'Connell.

The head coach yesterday confirmed the 33-year-old as his skipper when he unveiled his 35-man squad for the championship ahead of the opening game against Wales on February 7.

Schmidt has included four uncapped players in the panel, with Munster's CJ Stander, Ulster's Stuart McCloskey, Connacht's Ultan Dillane and Leinster's Josh van der Flier all involved for the first time.

Ireland will be without long-time first-choice props Mike Ross (hamstring) and Cian Healy (shoulder) for their first two games against Wales and France, with Chris Henry (shoulder) also injured for the first to those games.

Robbie Henshaw has been included despite being out since November with a hand injury and is likely to be released to Connacht to face Scarlets next week in order to get some much-needed game-time, while there is no place for Garry Ringrose and Luke McGrath, who have been left with Leinster to gain experience.

Jordi Murphy is the big casualty from the World Cup. The Leinster back-row started the quarter-final against Argentina, but the return of Tommy O'Donnell and the addition of Stander and Van der Flier sees him squeezed out.

Despite O'Connell's retirement and the loss of Peter O'Mahony, Iain Henderson and Tommy Bowe to long-term injury, Schmidt still has a strong squad to choose from ahead of their title defence.

But the skipper is not looking beyond the visit of Wales on Sunday fortnight as fans begin to think about a third successive title.

"The one big thing that Joe has emphasised since he first came in, his first day is about consistency; that Ireland are seen as a team that can produce big performances, but can't produce it game on game, week on week," he said.

"He has changed that dramatically for us, by focusing on the next game. We've an unbelievably tough start against Wales in Dublin and that's all we'll be focused on.

"If we take it game by game, ultimately we'll see where we are in the shake-up, but it's a tough competition. There hasn't been a Grand Slam in a good few years, because there's so many quality teams and there's also a lot of unknowns.

"To start talking about three-in-a-row would be slightly premature, but for us it's about the job in hand, which is in two weeks' time against Wales."

Irish Independent

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