Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 21 September 2014

Best is Ireland's Mister Versatile

Rory Best

How does one separate the slothful shibboleth from the accurate adage? Pat Kenny — brilliant on radio but brutal on the tube. Roy Keane — great player but a terrible manager. Wherein lies the truth?

It's impossible to really discern since each is a matter of opinion. And yet, the greater currency publicly afforded one opinion over another disproportionately weighs heavier on one side of the argument.

Take Rory Best. He may not be discussed as widely as messrs Kenny and Keane but lazy language has tailed him for years now. "Of course, Rory Best's scrummaging technique is far superior," snort the rugger snobs.

Google "Rory Best" and "scrummager" and there are endless references to how he is the pre-eminent Irish scrummaging hooker around. It's almost as if he's useless at everything else but, bless, isn't he a great little scrummager?

By default, we are led to believe that his rivals for the Irish number two jersey bring much more than mere scrummaging technique – the underlying assumption clearly being they're not great in the scrums but do everything else better than Best.

Hence, the idle analysis continues thus. Jerry Flannery – "Great darts but ... " Bernard Jackman ? "Great round the field but ..." The rival Irish hookers are italicised by their strength or weakness in the scrum.

Former Irish coaches have said it. Former team-mates have said it. Former Irish internationals have said it. Broadcast pundits say it. His recall to the Irish side on Tuesday was punctuated by references to it.

Best shouldn't really be surprised at another urban myth from the school of thought that brought you previous certainties such as John Hayes (pictured) being sent to the knacker's yard ever year since 2004 or the pathological hatred that exists between Munster and Leinster.

Isn't it now time, with his 31st cap imminent on Saturday against Scotland, to ask him straight out. The nearby presence of Keith Wood, another to expound the best theory, prompts one to blurt it out.

True or false, Rory. You're a brilliant scrummager but, how shall we put it, a slight jack of all trades master of none type deal when it comes to all the other stuff? The question seems to bring blessed relief, the type one feels when discreetly noticing one's trouser zip is down in public and being able to do it up before anyone notices.

"Whenever you're talking right across the board, everyone brings their individual bits to the table," he says. "I'm sure you can draw comparisons between Paddy Wallace and Gordon D'Arcy, for example.

"It felt unlucky at the time but I was lucky when growing up to be shifted between prop and hooker. That's why I don't mind being stuck in the middle of a scrum. At the time, I was hoping they'd make up their minds where they'd let me play. In hindsight, it was very beneficial for my own game.

"My handling skills have improved.

“I’ve had a lot of help there from Neil Doak in Ulster (an ex-out-half and fine international cricketer to boot). And since Matt Williams came in, I don't know whether it's an Australian thing, but he loves people being comfortable with the ball in hand.

"So we do a lot of playing with the ball in hand and that's helped me a lot. I definitely feel a lot more comfortable with the ball in hand."

So that's the truth from the horse's mouth. Best is more than a scrummaging hooker – he can get around the park, throw and play some ball too. Now just wait for people to start calling him a jack of all trades

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