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Rory Best insists Ireland squad not too old

By Niall Crozier

Rory Best is confident that Ulster’s improvement during former coach Brian McLaughlin’s three-year tenure will be a benefit to Ireland.

The Ulster hooker, who captained Ireland in last season’s final two RBS 6 Nations matches against Scotland and England in the absence of injured skipper Brian O’Driscoll and his usual understudy Paul O’Connell, also rubbished suggestions that Father Time has perhaps overhauled the current Irish side.

Seeking to put last season’s international exploits into some context, Best said: “Some of our results maybe took a little bit of the gloss off things.

“We’d a great World Cup — we were the first Ireland team to top their group and the first to beat a southern hemisphere team in a World Cup.

“All of that and then we just didn’t perform against Wales (in the quarter-finals) which meant that we ended the tournament on something of a sour note.

“In the Six Nations we should have beaten France away and we’d a strong performance against Scotland when we had a few injuries, but then we finished poorly against England.

“So everyone remembers the Six Nations as being a bomb because we got stuffed by England and then it was the same with the tour of New Zealand.

“We really should have won that second test. We played some of the best rugby an Irish team has played, certainly on tour, but again we finished it very, very poorly.”

While Best is realistic and honest enough to concede that, in his words, “it’s remembered as a poor Irish season,” he balances that by pointing out: “But when you look back at it we had a couple of memorable and really, really big results.”

The fact that the squad which toured New Zealand included seven Ulster players — Best himself, Declan Fitzpatrick, Dan Tuohy, Chris Henry, Paul Marshall, Darren Cave and Andrew Trimble — in addition to which Paddy Wallace was called in for the final test when Leinster’s Gordon D’Arcy was injured and that Stephen Ferris and Tom Court would have travelled to face the All Blacks had they been fit, supports the hooker’s insistence that the province’s stock has grown significantly.

The run to last season’s Heineken Cup final proves the point, as does the fact that McLaughlin was never afraid to blood youngsters, with Craig Gilroy now shining and Paddy Jackson making solid progress.

And in response to any talk of this being a Dad’s Army of an Ireland team, he shoots from the hip.

“When you look at the side that took the field in the second test, it answers the suggestion that this team is all getting old at the one time,” said Best.

“Actually, when you look through it and you stop believing everything that you hear, you can see something different.

“In the front row, Cian Healy (24) is only a child.

“Declan Fitzpatrick came in. Now, he’s a little bit older, yes (29), but in terms of rugby there’s not a lot on the clock.

“Dan Tuohy and Donnacha Ryan in the second row are both young.

“Our usual back row — Stevie Ferris, Sean O’Brien and Jamie Heaslip are all 28 and under. Then at half-back you have Conor Murray (23) and Jonny Sexton who’s still relatively young (27). These guys all have at least another World Cup in them.

“Keith Earls, Tommy Bowe, Rob Kearney, Luke Fitzgerald — we’ll see how he comes back — Craig Gilroy, Andrew Trimble; these guys are all going to be there at the World Cup in England in 2015.

“So I don’t think it’s fair to say that this is an ageing Irish team. Ireland have evolved very, very gradually; there hasn’t been one season when we gone, ‘Right, everybody out, everyone new in’.

“But there is a lot to be said for that kind of approach.”

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