Belfast Telegraph

Has Rory Best become a victim of the yips?

By Niall Crozier

Has Rory Best got the yips? That was the question being asked by Ulster supporters after what was supposed to have been a dream come true turned into a Canberra Stadium nightmare for Ireland's most capped hooker.

Entrusted with captaincy of the Lions' midweek side and asked to try to keep the tourists' hitherto unbeaten run going, Best was invited to make a case for his inclusion in the 23 for Saturday's opening Test against Australia.

With neither Richard Hibbard nor Tom Youngs having shone, the number two shirt was up for grabs. A big performance against Brumbies would have given Best's prospects a massive boost, but as was the case in his first two outings, the third, too, was a occasion on which he failed to do himself justice.

Inevitably social networks went into overdrive, the question being: does Rory bottle it when the heat is on?

The answer from sports psychologist Mark Elliott was: "I've worked with Rory since 2005 when he was reserve hooker with Ulster. As well as being mentally tough, he is one of the most intelligent athletes I've ever met."

Dismissing any suggestions of frailty on the player's part, he continued: "The mental game is the oil that lubricates technique so that the body is ready to do all that it has to do come game day.

"Rory's game didn't go well, but I think that might just have been one of those bad days at the office for the team as a whole and not just him as an individual. What matters most now is what he does to deal with what went wrong."

Highlighting Best's standing as a player, Elliott said: "I think it's important to remember that he must have been impressing to have been given the captaincy for this game, so while people on Twitter – who have probably never thrown a rugby ball in their lives – are saying awful things at the minute, I can't imagine the situation got the better of him.

"There can be a moment in a game that is pivotal and then it comes down to how you deal with it when something does go wrong.

"If you don't deal with that one – the first bad line-out throw or whatever – that can become the destructive domino. All the others start to fall because you can't get that one out of your mind, but Rory knows to move on.

"He's that sort of player, so he wouldn't be dwelling on it a whole lot. He'd be disappointed and he'd go through an emotion or two, but he's not going to rip himself apart. When teams lose, teams lose. Rory maybe didn't play to the level we know he can, but there are others in the equation as well.

"Here's the formula – performance equals capability minus interference. Your performance is the product of your capability, which is your technique and your physicality – strength, endurance etc. Then comes interference, which is the stuff that goes on between your ears, usually at crucial moments.

"The best performers in the world are the ones with a high 'C' factor and a low 'I'.

"Rory is one of the most mentally tough guys I have ever met, so I don't think it will have been a mental thing to any degree at all.

"People sometimes start saying things like that and then they begin to believe them so everything becomes magnified because they want to be able to put a label on somebody. This guy broke his neck, for goodness sake, and bounced back, so to question his mental strength is ridiculous.

"It's a team game. The team – of which he was part – had a bad day. It happens; you don't need to make a scapegoat of anybody."

Best's mental strength and self-belief will be tested afresh in the wake of having been captain when the Lions lost their first match of the tour and called ashore before the end of the third quarter with his side trailing 14-6.

It was only when the Lions changed four of their front five forwards that, finally, they began to play. The tourists' line-up featured players who boasted an aggregate of 580 Test caps. Brumbies, in contrast, had only 28 Tests between them. The bottom line is that the Lions just didn't turn up.

They have yet to see Rory at his best. Yet reality is while he's behind Hibbard and Youngs in the pecking order injury to either would see him in the Test 23. If the chance comes hopefully he'll do himself justice and the Lions proud.

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