Ex-Lions not Best pleased over Rory omission
Three former British and Irish Lions – all Ulstermen – have expressed their disappointment, but not total surprise, at coach Warren Gatland's decision not to include Rory Best in his Australia-bound squad of 37.
The hookers berths will be occupied by Wales' Richard Hibbard and English pair Tom Youngs and Dylan Hartley.
Hartley's inclusion ahead of Best adds insult to injury, given that the Northampton man was suspended after punching the Ulster stalwart in the Heineken Cup clash at Franklins Gardens last December.
And back in March 2012 Hartley was banned for two months for biting Ulster's Stephen Ferris in the England-Ireland clash at Twickenham.
The most famous of all of Ireland's Lions, the legendary Willie John McBride – who featured in five trips by the cream of the Home Nations, the last of them in 1974 when he skippered 'The Invincibles' – urged 30-year-old Best not to lose heart.
"I was 34 when I played in my last Lions tour," commented McBride. "He still has time."
Offering Best further encouragement, he added: "Different coaches are looking for different things.
"And when it comes to picking a Lions squad – and I've been involved in that, so I know about it – there are always hard luck stories. There is always going to be somebody who misses out.
"He must be feeling gutted at not being in there but he's not far away, let's put it that way. So my advice to him would be to keep yourself fit. Things happen very quickly, with injuries and God knows what, on tour and I'd say he'd be straight in there if anything happens to any of the others," the maestro said.
"He has tried hard and played hard, but where you have the hookers from four countries involved there is going to be disappointment.
"That's one of the knocks of life and it's sad, but you keep the head up and you keep playing. If you do that it's amazing how fortune sometimes turns in your favour."
Trevor Ringland, who played for the 1983 Lions in New Zealand and against the Rest of the World three years later in the IRFB Centenary match at Cardiff Arms Park, said: "I feel very disappointed for Rory. He really must be gutted. He's a great player and I think he would have done very well with the Lions.
"It's a terrible pity that he's not there. I'd imagine that's one of the decisions Warren Gatland must have taken a lot of time over.
"I think the expectation was that he would go and with them taking three hookers it's really unfortunate that he's not one of them," the wing ace continued.
"He has been a consistent performer over the years and there is no reason to think that consistency wouldn't have continued on this tour.
"If you go back over the years, he has been performing consistently well all that time.
"At this stage of his career, this will be particularly disappointing for him. The work ethic really is there; the work he puts in around the pitch is fantastic and he is recognised as bringing strength to the scrum so he's just a great all-round rugby player."
But flanker Nigel Carr – who has the distinction of having won his Lions cap on home soil in April '86 in that IRFB Centenary match in Cardiff, admitted Ireland's poor showing in the RBS Six Nations Championship did Best few favours.
"I don't think that did his cause much good, or indeed that of a number of Irish players," said Carr.
"But on that basis I suppose if you were Scottish you'd feel even more hard done by. They finished third and have three players in the squad; Ireland came fifth and have nine."
However, Carr highlighted Best's superiority in head-to-heads against Hartley.
"In the Heineken Cup, Rory had a great performance against him, particularly over there in the first match," Carr recalled.
"I don't think Hartley's performances are any better than Rory's and certainly his discipline leaves a lot to be desired. That would be a bit of a concern for me."
Conversely, Carr admitted that Ulster's disappointing showing against Saracens in the Heineken Cup quarter-final at Twickenham will not have weighed in Best's favour.
"After that match my feeling was that if I was picking a Lions Test side, Richard Hibbard would be the number one choice, though Rory certainly would have been in the party with everything to play for based on how he did when they got out to Australia," he said.
"He'll be on the reserve list so there is still a chance if there's an injury," Carr said.
"But I'm sure he had hoped for a lot more – that isn't how he would have wanted to make the Lions squad."