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Six Nations: Rory Best finds there's room at the top

As he unfurls his tired limbs at Ireland's Carton House base this morning, Rory Best will acknowledge that an Ireland camp without Brian O'Driscoll houses hidden fringe benefits.

Today is the Irish team's down day. No breakfast deadline. No team meeting. No enforced dress code. And for Best, no room-mate.

As the sun rises, Best can retreat under the covers knowing that an extra forty winks will come uninterrupted by a noisy colleague.

Being one of the Irish squad's team leaders - and particularly now that their irreplaceable captain has been sidelined - does have its, admittedly trivial, perks.

The Ulster man smiles sheepishly.

"The tradition is the captain gets a room on his own," he explains. "So with a squad of 24 there is going to be one odd one out.

"And with Denis Leamy being injured, who is traditionally my room-mate, I don't know if it is a case of no one else wanting to share with me or if it is because of my seniority!"

Not that he will readily cede the privilege.

"Well, Paulie O'Connell has taken Brian's and I've taken Paulie's so in a roundabout way we've worked it out. It doesn't really bother me. If 'Leams' was still around I'd room with him but it's just the way it has worked out."

The burden of extra leadership does not bother a player who is arguably in the prime of his playing career, nor a recognition that Best - without Jerry Flannery's presence - more than ever needs to lead by example.

He concedes the point and, unprompted, digresses to address concerns about Conor Murray's inexperience as Ireland head to the Parisian bear pit this weekend.

"I think it has been shared out," he says of the leadership responsibilities. "There are more boys who are a year further into their international careers. The likes of Jamie Heaslip, Sean O'Brien, Stevie Ferris. The back-row are vital for us and they have stepped up as leaders. Eoin Reddan, even though he is not starting, has been big as well for us, so has Ronan O'Gara.

"Conor Murray is obviously very early in his international career but he has been good that way and I think it is unfair to ask too much of him in terms of the leadership role.

"There are plenty of leaders right across the board. It is vital for any team to have that but especially at this level.

"Because the margins between being able to cope with mistakes is so tight that you need leaders right across the team. There are moments when you are going to feel down in a game and you need leaders to get you back up again."

He may have a day off today but Best's attention to detail will probably see him duck his head into the video analysis room where, in all likelihood, he will find his captain O'Connell poring over DVDs.

"I think the French are pretty lucky they've got two quality hookers and it looks like they're trying to give them a relatively equal amount of game time," he said of Philippe Saint-Andre's decision to retain Dimitri Szarzewski ahead of William Servat, despite some difficulty against Scotland's excellent defensive line-out.

"Obviously Servat came on and was pretty powerful in closing out the game for France on Sunday, but, having said that, Szarzewski played pretty well and he was obviously picked to play against us the last time.

"So there are no real surprises in that for us. We now know what the front-row is going to be so we can now tailor our game accordingly and we know what's coming off the bench. We've seen the impact that those boys can have."

Best's own line-out work continues to be parsed disproportionately; a lost throw last weekend when the Italians were still in the business of defending in the air led ultimately to a seven-pointer. That analysis has, however, already been done so Best enjoyed a bit of relief last evening, off-roading with Cian Healy in his jeep.

Not much more work can be done ahead of this match now. All the better reason to sleep soundly and dream of success.

Belfast Telegraph


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