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Rory Best's dream comes true with Six Nations leadership

Captain of Ireland, it doesn't get any better than this

By Jonathan Bradley

Ulster's Rory Best described as a "dream" his elevation to Ireland rugby captain by coach Joe Schmidt.

With Paul O'Connell having retired from international duty, the Irish head coach's options for a Six Nations skipper included senior squad members like Jamie Heaslip, Johnny Sexton and Sean O'Brien but the Kiwi opted for the 33-year-old Ulsterman.

Banbridge clubman Best from Poyntzpass, who has filled in as captain on four previous occasions, said: "It's a massive honour for me and my family and it is something you dream of when you are growing up, to play for Ireland and then to be asked to captain the side.

"It's something I'm privileged to do and I'm very much looking forward to it."

Best's first game as permanent captain will come in the Six Nations opener against Wales on Sunday, February 7 and he revealed that while he had known Schmidt's plans for a few days, he couldn't even tell his own son at first."

Best then described how he learned the news from coach Schmidt: "At first I had a missed call from him so I had to ring him back and didn't know what he wanted.

"I was hoping it was good news and it was fairly obvious with the smile on my face. Only myself and my wife knew but we had to keep it fairly quiet.

"I've a five-year-old son who is a bit of a rugby fan and he might have told everyone else if I had told him!"

Ulster captain Best, whose brother Simon also temporarily skippered Ireland in the past, admitted that it was "emotional" telling family and friends of the news.

"It was hugely emotional and telling family in the last day or so, it's been emotional for them," he said.

"They've been through a lot of stuff, my career hasn't exactly been straightforward.

"There's been a lot of highs, don't get me wrong, but there's been a few lows along the way and to add this to the CV is a massive honour and I'm delighted to be captain of Ireland."

Best is among seven Ulstermen called up for the opening games against Wales and France with Stuart McCloskey also enjoying a red letter day.

The young centre is one of four uncapped players in the squad and Best hailed the strides the 23-year-old has made this year.

"Stuart has been very good for us this season," he commented.

"He is becoming a more complete player.

"At the start of the season he was playing well with a lot to work on but to be fair to him he has kept his head down and worked hard.

"The big thing when someone breaks through like he did at the start of the season is to produce consistent performances which he has done.

"At the start he is unheard of, but teams start to work you out and you have to evolve from that and he's done that.

"I think it's great for Ulster and especially guys coming in for their first time and that are uncapped."

With the Six Nations just over two weeks away, Best is aiming to maintain consistency before entertaining talk of a third championship in a row.

"It's something that we haven't talked a whole lot about," Best said.

"The one big thing that (coach)Joe (Schmidt) has emphasised since he first came in is about consistency; that Ireland are seen as a team that can produce big performances, but can't produce it game on game, week on week," he added.

"He has changed that dramatically for us, by focusing on the next game.

"We've an unbelievably tough start against Wales in Dublin and that's all we'll be focused on.

"If we take it game by game, ultimately we'll see where we are in the shake-up, but it's a tough competition.

"To start talking about three-in-a-row would be slightly premature but for us it's about the job in hand which is in two weeks' time against Wales."

Ireland have that tough opener against Wales at the Aviva Stadium on Sunday fortnight followed by a demanding showdown with France in Paris on Saturday, February 13. Then come England at Twickenham followed by home games with Italy and Scotland.

Belfast Telegraph


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