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I'm in awe of whizzkid Larmour, admits Best

 

By Jonathan Bradley

It was during last season that Simon Zebo joked that given the age profile of Ireland's team, there were times he felt like a babysitter around Carton House.

With the Munster man, now outside of the set-up thanks to his impending move to Racing 92, only 27-years-old, he could have perhaps spared a thought for captain Rory Best.

Very much Irish Rugby's most experienced campaigner these days at 35-years-old and winning his 108th cap against Italy in the Six Nations this afternoon, the skipper of both province and country was handed a reminder this week of the gap between himself and the coming men of the game in this part of the world.

The name of Jordan Larmour has constantly been on the lips of pundits and players over the past few months and the Leinster back-three man is set to make his Test debut from the bench against Conor O'Shea's side in the Aviva Stadium today (2.15pm kick-off).

Only 20, he was still a mascot at Leinster by the time Best was already a part of a Grand Slam-winning squad.

"I think it's frightening that Cian Healy produced a picture from somewhere in 2009 when Jordan was one of the mascots or one of the guys waving the flags before a Leinster game," revealed Best yesterday.

"That's frightening because I was married in 2009."

Best has already had the experience of playing against Larmour this season and it's fair to say that neither occasion worked out well for him.

It was Best's 200th cap for Ulster when Larmour produced what seems sure to become a trademark devastating step to score under the Kingspan Stadium posts, while he ran riot in the RDS last month in the first game of 2018.

Best can be forgiven for being glad that the young tyro is now on his side.

"All the provinces in some shape or form have been affected by him over the last couple of months," he said. "Just to see him in training and the change of pace he has even in a walkthrough, which sounds ridiculous, but he is a very, very exciting talent.

"It's a massive day for him, to get your debut is something that every young rugby player in Ireland dreams of, pulling on that green jersey. For him to do it for the first time, and to do it in the manner he's played this season, he is massively deserving of being in the squad.

"There's always been at least one guy over the years that walks in and they may not fill the room with their presence in terms of how vocal they are, but when they're on the training pitch you look at them and go, 'This guy has time on the ball'.

"He makes what I would find very difficult things very easy.

"The way he is around the place, he isn't someone who strikes you as getting too uptight about things. The flip side of that is that he gets very little wrong in training.

"To come in like that so young and into such a pressurised environment that we try to create, to be able to do that speaks volumes about his character."

Larmour is not the only young gun in the 23, even with James Ryan's attempt to build on a massively impressive Six Nations debut last week halted by a niggle that has allowed Devin Toner back in.

The likes of Larmour, Jacob Stockdale, Tadhg Furlong, Robbie Henshaw et al have never experienced defeat against the Championship's perennial strugglers, but nine of today's 23 were in Rome the afternoon the Azzurri delivered the final blow to Declan Kidney's coaching tenure.

Best was the starting hooker that day and warned that, even against a side who haven't won in this competition since 2015, there are no easy games in the Six Nations.

"When you pull on an Irish jersey there's a certain expectation placed upon you to produce a performance," he said.

"I've been in teams that have lost to Italy and they're a really tough proposition.

"We know we've got to start well and we've got to do our things right.

"There are guys (winning) first caps, first Six Nations and they're going to be nervous. It's important to make a big start and calm those nerves and try to impose ourselves on what will be a really tricky game.

"Anyone underestimating Italy isn't within our group because we know it's a tough game.

"They'll be coming and hoping to build on a very strong performance last week against England.

"England ran away in the last quarter but Italy will take positives from that and we've got to make sure we're good because they'll test us with and without the ball."

Hardly likely to say anything else, Best knows that Ireland expects.

Bradley's Verdict: Ireland

By hook or by crook, Ireland enter this stretch of three home games on the back of a win in Paris. Joe Schmidt resisted the temptation to make many changes in the sole game in the Championship that affords the chance for rotation. The measure of this performance won't be the result - Ireland will win - but how their attacking shape functions.

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