Belfast Telegraph

Home Sport Rugby

Rory Best a tough nut and perfect man to lead Ireland


By Alan Quinlan

Remember Georgia? The 2007 World Cup? Some of us can never forget it, the lucky escape from a harrowing defeat, the dark mood in the dressing room afterwards, the sense of panic. And there is something else that sticks in my mind, long forgotten by almost everyone else.

At this stage I was still only getting to know Rory Best. Simon, his brother, was someone I was better acquainted with, having toured with him in Japan in 2005. Rory? When I first became aware of him, I certainly didn't think, 'Future Ireland captain here, guys'.

In fact, I didn't even think he'd have much of an international career. That all changed in Bordeaux, though, when he was withdrawn 27 minutes before the end with a dislocated thumb. "That's six weeks out, isn't it?" I said. "That's your World Cup over."

"I'll be grand," he replied.

Grand? How can you be grand when you dislocate your thumb? It happened to me a month later. I was out for two months, forced to have an operation.

And Rory? He missed one match, putting some fancy strapping on his hand and putting himself through the pain barrier to get back in time for the Argentina game 19 days later.

He didn't make a song and dance about what he was doing. He's not a martyr. But he is tough. A hard nut. A man who is willing to put his body on the line. And let's be clear, he has been hurt.

I played with and against him and was there to see him stick his head in where the boots fly. I've heard the noise when a boot has connected with his head. And I've seen him get up, dust himself down, and get on with it.

When he played for a few minutes against the All Blacks in 2013 with a broken arm, he cleaned out a ruck with his good hand - while injured. It reminded me of Paul O'Connell and Brian O'Driscoll.

Is he the right choice to lead Ireland? Absolutely. While there were alternatives, Rory is the Best candidate and not just because he leads from the front and not just because he is ready to battle.

His personality suits this job. O'Connell is a hard act to follow and you don't just need a level of self-confidence but also a degree of self-awareness. You cannot be aloof. You cannot swan around the team hotel. You have to mix.

Rory does. A hard man on the pitch, he is an easy-going guy off it. From the first time he came into the squad a little over a decade ago, he didn't take the easy option and room with his brother or an Ulster colleague. He knew Denis Leamy from way back. They roomed together.

When it was lunch or dinner time, he was comfortable enough to take up a seat next to whoever was there. It was never a case of him sticking to who he knew. He was always willing to mix, always up for a laugh, always a good character to have around, popular.

All he concerned himself with was making himself as good as he could be. Lads respected him because we saw him as a tough nut, the ultimate professional, the selfless team player.

And then we got to know the person and we respected him even more.

Could Joe Schmidt have made an alternative decision? Absolutely. Jamie Heaslip was a credible candidate and it was a smart call on Schmidt's behalf to offer him the vice-captaincy. Jamie lasts 80 minutes whereas Rory - quite often - is substituted with 10 or 15 minutes to go. With Heaslip there, we have a ready-made stand-in.

Similarly, Sean O'Brien, Rob Kearney and Jonny Sexton will all be integral members of the leadership group. Between them, the kind of messed-up decision-making that Chris Robshaw made for England against Wales in the World Cup, will be avoided.

This call is one of Schmidt's smartest since he took charge. Players, from all four provinces, will both respect and follow him.

Will they respect Joe's decision not to select Garry Ringrose? They should. Save him for the future.

Belfast Telegraph


From Belfast Telegraph