Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 28 December 2014

Paddy Johns backs Rory as best man for the job

Leader: Rory Best's appointment as Ireland captain makes him the first Ulsterman to skipper the team in a Championship match since Paddy Johns in 1999
Leader: Rory Best's appointment as Ireland captain makes him the first Ulsterman to skipper the team in a Championship match since Paddy Johns in 1999

Paddy Johns is the last Ulsterman to have captained Ireland in a Championship match.

In total the big dentist led Ireland on 10 occasions, including the 1999 Championship — the final season of the Five Nations before it became six the following year.

Tomorrow, Ulster’s Rory Best captains the Irish. By a remarkable coincidence, the hooker — like second-row forward Johns — was born in Portadown, though neither every played rugby for the town.

Johns made his name with Dungannon, Best’s allegiance — nominal in the professional era — is with Banbridge.

Tomorrow Best wins his 58th cap. Johns earned 59, a total he expects to see Best equal next Saturday at Twickenham where England host Ireland in the final match of the 2012 RBS 6 Nations series. If that happens, Best will set a new record as the most capped Irish hooker of all time.

“That’s going to be brilliant for him,” Johns beams. “Imagine that; becoming the most capped Irish player of all time in your position — and against England on St Patrick’s Day. It couldn’t get any better.”

Johns has no misgivings about Best’s ability; he is confident he will have things right in his head today.

Asked what is likely to be going on in Best’s mind at this stage, Johns ventured: “To start with, Rory will be thinking about his own game.

“He’ll want to lead by example; that’s the sort of player he is — he gives everything anyway so he certainly won’t be giving any less because he’s captain.

“And he’ll probably be talking to some of the other senior players to get a little bit of support from them.”

But as Johns recalls, the biggest single positive will be the realisation that, in the coach’s eyes, you are the best man for the job.

“By appointing him — which is a great honour — that’s really what Declan Kidney is saying,” Johns stressed.

“There’s no other way you can interpret it; if Declan thought there was somebody able to do it better he would have chosen them.

“The coach picks the captain he thinks is going to be best for the team.”

Quite apart from Best’s recent excellent form and ability to lead by example, the tenacity he has shown over the years in fighting his way to the top of the queue will have impressed Kidney.

“That’s something that should be emphasised,” Johns said. “For a long time Rory’s role appeared to be understudy to Jerry Flannery, but he kept working until finally he has emerged not only as Ireland’s first-choice hooker but now as captain of the side, too.

“He’s mature, he’s well-seasoned and he’s experienced, having captained Ulster, so he’ll be ready for this.

“He’s an intelligent player, so I think he’ll just look on the captaincy as a bonus, although one with responsibility attached.”

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