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Schmidt the Best man to lead us, insists Rory

By Jonathan Bradley

With Joe Schmidt set to decide his Ireland future in the coming months, Rory Best hopes to see the man who bestowed the captaincy upon him remain in the coach's hotseat.

As Ireland prepare for the final game of their 2016 Six Nations campaign against Scotland at the Aviva Stadium this evening (5pm kick-off), attention has long since turned to the future with England having already stolen away their crown and gunning for a Grand Slam tonight.

With Schmidt's deal running out at the end of June 2017, the Kiwi - who is enduring his first trophyless campaign since coming to Ireland and taking over Leinster in 2010 - has said he will decide whether to lead his squad to the 2019 World Cup following this summer's three-Test tour to South Africa.

"It is something that I've committed to making a decision on once we get back from Africa really," he said this week.

"It's really important that there is a clear pathway for players to know that there's some continuity there. Or if that continuity is going to be with someone else, that there's a span of enough time that they can get the game up and running as they see it best being played.

"I am conscious of my responsibility there."

The IRFU would like to keep their man for the World Cup in Japan three years from now but he eluded to other motivations when discussing his future.

Schmidt's son, Luke, suffers from epilepsy and the family have travelled to the southern hemisphere to visit specialists throughout his tenure.

He did, however, praise the playing group he now seems increasingly likely to leave behind in a year's time.

"There's some factors outside of rugby that tend to dictate for me [and] we'll be a little bit further down the track with some of those decisions as well.

"You couldn't get a better group of young men to work with, and not-so-young men who are still sprightly in how they move about, and the mix has changed a bit this year."

Best (33), who was made captain by Schmidt following the retirement of Paul O'Connell, hopes to see the relationship extended beyond next summer.

"Absolutely, from a player's point of view," he said at yesterday's captain's run when asked if the squad wanted to see the 50-year-old in charge for a second World Cup tilt.

"This coaching staff is one of the best I've ever worked with. It'd be great to keep it together and pushing forward. I know we're going for third tomorrow, but two titles in three years is not bad going. We wanted to make it three in a row and that shows that we've been pushing on."

Today is Best's 50th consecutive championship game for Ireland - a feat matched only by former prop John Hayes - a remarkable mark in such an attritional position although the hooker was seen as a doubt earlier in the week.

Joking that the calf problem he had been nursing was a sign of advancing years, the Poyntzpass man is determined to finish his first campaign as skipper on a high.

Having started their attempt for a third title in a row with a draw and two defeats, Ireland got back on track against limited opposition when routing Italy at the Aviva Stadium seven days ago.

Such was the level of comfort, both Best and out-half Johnny Sexton were removed from the fray with half an hour of the game remaining.

Matters will be considerably more difficult this evening but the nine-try performance will have restored much of the confidence lost in a disappointing World Cup campaign and winless start to the championship.

Best is hoping to build on that momentum with a victory that would likely secure third place, and bring with it an extra one million euro wedge of prize money. "Last week took the monkey off the back, getting the win," he said. "We've trained really well, since the England game especially, and there's a real hunger and desire to finish off this campaign strong.

"(We want) to keep improving, to keep getting better at the stuff we haven't done well, and to see how much better we can get at the stuff we have done well."

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