Magner's League: Rory Best taking the strain of Ulster captaincy
Captaincy is a role which weighs some players down. Others love the responsibility and actually appear to thrive on it. Ulster’s Rory Best is one of those who enjoys the job.
Particularly now, with the 2010/11 squad boasting so many experienced, high-quality players on whom he knows he can rely.
It hasn’t always been this way, for although he is too diplomatic to say so, there must have been times when he looked across a dressing room in the hope of something to lift his spirits only to find that it wasn’t there.
No such problems now.
“It makes the job of being captain a lot easier when you’re with the other seven forwards and you look around the huddle to see everyone has been capped for their country, has won lots of caps for Ulster or — in Johann’s (Muller’s) case — has captained South Africa,” Best explains.
“You know everyone knows how to play the game and their role within our game, which gives you a lot of confidence as a team. Everybody benefits from that.
“You know you have so much experience and are with boys who have been there and done that many times.
“Definitely there’s a really good feeling at the minute.”
Ulster’s vastly improved strength in depth is another cause for optimism on the eve of an all-Irish fourth versus second Magners League clash in Galway.
“The true sign of a good squad is when you look at the players who have been left out and you’re impressed by them, too,” Best says.
“There are some very good players not in our 23 this weekend and while they’ll be disappointed — there would be something wrong with them if they weren’t — that is what we need.
“Everybody has to have that drive to be the best, to play in the big games and to be the number one. At the end of the day that’s what it’s all about.
“If your people outside the 23 are happy enough with that then they’re probably not going to be any use when push comes to shove and they’re called on to play.
“You have to know that when the call goes out it’s to people you can rely on to give everything for the team.
“Keeping a squad happy is about trying to rotate and making sure that everybody feels involved. We’ve used 26 or 27 players so far in only three games, each of which we’ve won, which I think speaks volumes for the squad we have now.”
Far too canny, experienced and grounded, Best knows better than to start calling the odds or making forecasts at this stage. Three matches into a 22-fixtures programme is rather too early to be thinking in terms of prizes.
But he is willing to draw parallels, citing examples from Gaelic and Association Football to make two very significant points.
“While you don’t want to get too far ahead of yourself at the minute, you know that anything is possible.
“If you look at that Down team last weekend at Croke Park, no-one gave them a chance at the start of their season and yet they ended up in the All-Ireland final.
“When you see things like that happening you know that anything is possible if you can develop some momentum and then keep it going.
“There’s no doubt that we have the quality in our squad. Now it’s just about getting a bit of the bounce of the ball and winning those tight games like the ones against Ospreys or Aironi.
“They’re the four points you have to get and you only do that by winning those hard matches, rather than getting just one or two points from them.
“That’s really what it’s all about. That’s where your top teams come through in professional sport.
“Your Manchester Uniteds do it all the time — even when they don’t play well they still bank three points. That’s what it’s all about; that’s the difference between winning rather than losing or else just getting a draw.”