Friday 13 December 2019

Revealed: Rory Best chosen as Ireland captain after secret player ballot

Rory Best, pictured, has replaced Paul O'Connell as Ireland captain
Rory Best, pictured, has replaced Paul O'Connell as Ireland captain

Nick Purewal

Ireland's "gentleman farmer" Rory Best won the right to succeed Paul O'Connell as Test captain after a secret ballot of Joe Schmidt's squad.

Ulster hooker Best emerged as the unanimous choice of the Ireland squad to lead head coach Schmidt's men into the defence of their RBS 6 Nations crown.

Best has beaten serious contenders Jamie Heaslip, Johnny Sexton and Peter O'Mahony to replace talismanic lock O'Connell as Ireland skipper, with boss Schmidt delighted to endorse the 89-cap hooker's credentials.

"When the coaches and management got together, all we did was really endorse the feeling from the playing group," said Schmidt.

"He is our most-capped international currently, and his experience and his performances for the team have been first-rate.

"Off the pitch he's the consummate professional.

"And as a gentleman farmer he's got lots of time on his hands to commit to the various duties that captaincy requires!"

Ireland’s opening try of the World Cup against Scotland on Super Saturday was a real team try, finished by Paul O’Connell. Picture: Getty Images

Ireland confirmed the entire squad was asked to vote for their favourite to replace O'Connell (pictured above), and Best's overwhelming majority victory underlines both his influence and standing within Schmidt's ranks.

While tongue-in-cheek, Schmidt's "gentleman farmer" quip underscores Best's life outside rugby - grafting hard on the family farm just outside Banbridge.

The homespun hooker's humility clearly stems from the years of toil in fields of the non-rugby variety, along with dad John and brother Simon, another ex-Ireland front-rower.

Totemic lock O'Connell retired from Test rugby straight after the World Cup, and has since swapped home province Munster for Toulon on the French riviera.

Best knows full well he must fill a sizeable leadership chasm in light of O'Connell's absence, but admitted he must not fall into the trap of trying to emulate the former skipper's approach.

Best revealed O'Connell offered that sage advice for the challenge ahead, reflecting on how he succeeded Brian O'Driscoll in Ireland's hot seat.

O'Driscoll had in turn taken the armband from Keith Wood, indicating first that Best has joined exalted company - but second that the 33-year-old must not fear the weight of history.

"It's a big challenge," said Best of leading Ireland after O'Connell.

PL24011651France v Ireland.jpg
Brian O'Driscoll

"Speaking to Paul (O'Connell) before, he took over from Brian (O'Driscoll), it was a big challenge stepping into those shoes.

"And for Brian, before that, taking over from Woody (Keith Wood). Every time, there's a bit of a change in the captaincy, you're filling big shoes because they've been pivotal parts of Irish rugby.

"It's a challenge, but I think the one thing that certainly Paulie did really well was he didn't change how he went about things. He got put in there because of how he was around the place.

"You don't have to reinvent things just because your captain. You just keep trying to lead by example.

"We lean very heavily on the senior players like we have done in the past two years under Joe and that will continue.

"There's some really, really good senior players with experience of captaining sides at international and club level."

Who is your sportstar of the year?

Vote in the Irish Independent Sport Star Awards and you could win the ultimate sports prize.

Prizes include, tickets to Ireland's against Scotland in the Six Nations, All Ireland football and hurling final tickets and much more.

Simply click here to register your vote

PA Media

The Left Wing: John Cooney on Ulster's European run and bouncing back from World Cup disappointment

Editor's Choice

Also in Sport