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Lions talk won't distract Rory Best: Ulster's Iain Henderson

Rory is in the mix to be Gatland's main man but he's focused on leading from the front with Ulster

By Jonathan Bradley

Iain Henderson believes the Lions captaincy will be the furthest thing from Rory Best's mind after the hooker became Ulster's first Ireland Test centurion at the weekend.

The 34-year-old made the 2013 touring party to Australia as a replacement after Dylan Hartley was ruled out through suspension but, despite captaining the midweek squad, could not crack Warren Gatland's Test side.

Last week, in the build-up to the Irish skipper's 100th cap, defence coach Andy Farrell, who filled the same role with the Lions last time around and is one of the favourites to do so again this summer, tipped the Banbridge product as a potential captain of the tour to New Zealand.

His Ireland and Ulster team-mate Henderson, however, is sure that the honour is not yet on Best's radar.

"That'll be the last thing on Rory's mind," said Henderson.

"He'll be looking to Cardiff away next and two big European games (against Clermont) with Ulster.

"Personally, I think he's an unbelievable captain having played with him at club and international level.

"I'm sure that's been noticed elsewhere too."

And not just among the Lions management, who are plotting a first series win over the All Blacks since 1971.

Henderson hopes that becoming Ireland's fifth player to amass a ton of outings on the biggest stage will bring some belated recognition for what has been a fantastic career.

"Having played and trained with him over the last number of years, you see it day in, day out," said Henderson.

"Not only on the playing field but on the training pitch, you see how much hard work he does and how much he is capable of, and how much that has an impact on teams.

"I think it would only be justice to him if people overseas and other rugby playing nations would realise how much of a quality player he has been for Ireland over his last 100 caps, and for Ulster as well. It's fantastic to see him still trucking along."

The come-from-behind victory over Australia saw Best become the first man to earn his 100th cap since Paul O'Connell in March 2015.

Ireland lost that day, their only reverse of that Six Nations campaign, with Henderson believing Best's own milestone will have been in the thoughts of the players when they overturned a late deficit despite an injury-ravaged backline.

"I think it was in the back of everyone's mind throughout the week," he admitted.

"Everyone knew we had to put a performance in, not just for Ireland but for him as well.

"I remember we lost for Paulie's 100th against Wales and I remember feeling an air of disappointment over that.

"I thought I'd hate to have that again for another centurion.

"Everyone felt similar and everyone knew it would be another big day for him and his family too.

"It was a Rory Best performance as we ground it out after they went ahead, keeping the head down, keeping the work going and holding on at the end."

The aftermath of the Australia win displayed the standing of Best within the Ireland camp, with team-mates quick to share tributes either on social media or when speaking to the press.

Munster's CJ Stander, who came into the side when the hooker took over the captaincy ahead of the last Six Nations, says that Best is a player to look up to.

"He is one of those guys who walks into a room and you feel his presence," said the burly back-rower. "He works very hard for the team and when he speaks people listen.

"I look up to him, he is a great player, a great leader and a great human being.

"I'll just tell him congratulations on 100 caps.

"He has been outstanding in all those 100 caps and he has been one of the great leaders I have played with and against.

"It's great to see a guy like him become the fifth to get 100 caps for Ireland.

"The way he works at his age, he works hard for every inch and every thing he does is for the team."

Belfast Telegraph


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