Best believes young Ulster stars must seize their chance to shine
Published 05/08/2014 | 08:19
With August 15 being his 32nd birthday, Rory Best knows that more of his playing days lie behind rather than before him.
But having once again taken up the reins as Ulster captain, he is determined to ensure that before hanging up his boots he will have played a part in paving the way for a successor.
Currently in Portugal where Ulster are continuing their preparations for the fast-approaching start of the 2014-15 campaign, the hooker underlined the importance of giving some of the squad's younger members greater responsibility.
To that end he stressed the importance of them being able to pick up the tab when a sizeable number of Ulster's seniors are absent on Ireland duty.
"When you look at our performances over the last number of years, we struggle when we lose our Ireland internationals, though we didn't identify it for a long time," he admitted.
"Hopefully, touch wood, we're going to lose our captain and a lot of our senior players to Ireland this season, so that has to be addressed now.
"It's one of those things where, if you don't talk about it, it doesn't get fixed. And probably over the last couple of years we haven't talked about it much. But now I think boys are going to have to step up.
"We have to plan for these things and that includes trying to see who the next captain might be.
"I have a two-year contract and I'm 31 at the minute. I'm not going to be here forever so there needs to be somebody else stepping in," he said.
"There's a group of under-25s here and they're going to be world-class players. But it's about finding out which one of them can step up and be the next captain, the guy to lead Ulster into the next generation and bring the next group of young players through.
"I think we're going to have to put a bit of pressure on some of those boys to stand up and, rather than going under the wing of senior players, be senior players themselves. That is something we have to address.
"Now, some of those young players are going to be away with Ireland as well, but it's important that we mix and match so that we have a good number of young guys in our regular match-day 23."
Ultimately it will fall to Best and stand-in Ulster coach Les Kiss to make big decisions on matters, including that of vice-captain.
"It's a bit of a quandary at the minute, but I think it's important that it's a joint-decision," Best said.
"Even now you can see boys who have matured a bit from last year.
"There are boys you maybe wouldn't have picked last year, but even in the two or three weeks since I've been back I can see that they've been standing up and pressing.
"That's why we won't be rushing into decisions. Hopefully we have until the autumn to put that in place.
"We have any number of good potential vice-captains at this stage.
"Whether Les will want to name an outright vice-captain, or maybe have two vice-captains to share the role remains to be seen.
"That will be his call. But to be fair to him, he has to be given time to make up his mind."