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Poll: Five candidates to succeed Rory Best as Ulster captain - who gets your vote?

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Rob Herring, Iain Henderson and Marcell Coetzee are among those in the Ulster squad with captaincy experience.
Rob Herring, Iain Henderson and Marcell Coetzee are among those in the Ulster squad with captaincy experience.
Gareth Hanna

By Gareth Hanna

Rory Best has said his emotional farewells to Ulster Rugby, ending his 14 year senior career with the province.

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While he still has the chance to end his career on a high as he leads Ireland into the 2019 Rugby World Cup in Japan, Ulster must immediately turn their attention to life after Rory.

A huge part of that will be learning to live without his famed leadership skills on and off the pitch.

It's 12 years since Best was first named Ulster captain, taking over from brother Simon back in 2007. Since then, he has been one of the biggest figures in the Kingspan Stadium dressing room and at all times demanded the highest of standards from his team-mates.

Even the foundations for Ulster's impressive first season under Dan McFarland were arguably put in place by a speech given by Best ahead of his side's impressive run-in during the 17/18 campaign.

Ulster had just been beaten 35-17 by Cardiff Blues, suffering their fourth loss in five games to leave their play-off hopes all but over and even their ambitions of securing a Champions Cup place severely damaged.

However, Best addressed team-mates in the changing room and heralded a 'line in the sand' moment.

It proved to be exactly that as Ulster ended the season with four wins and a draw from their last five fixtures, paving the path to McFarland's arrival.

And after this season's Champions Cup campaign ended in particularly cruel fashion at Leinster, it was Best that again spoke to the team and rallied mindsets.

A true leader.

So just who will be named as his successor?

Here's a look at the key contenders:

Iain Henderson

The Irish lock has long been tipped as the man that would eventually take over from Best. He will be one of seven players with over 100 caps in the Ulster panel next season. With 44 Ireland caps, Henderson will be the second most experienced international player in Ulster's squad (after incoming prop Jack McGrath) and also has the 2017 British & Irish Lions tour to look back on.

He has captained Ulster in Best's absence, most recently in last month's victory over Edinburgh at Murrayfield.

Henderson has further demonstrated his leadership skills when calling the line-out for Ireland. In fact, those qualities were called out by both Bryn Cunningham and David Nucifora when he penned his new contract, lasting until 2021, last year.

Marcell Coetzee

Although he only has 28 Ulster appearances to his name, the 28-year-old has quickly become one of the province's most influential players.

Coetzee was named the Rugby Writers’ Player of the Year for last season, having hit top form after the start to his Ulster career was hampered by injury.

His leadership abilities were recognised at his old club Sharks, where he was named vice-captain aged just 24.

Before then, he captained his Port Natal school to a run of 23 consecutive matches and, while it is a long time ago, his leadership abilities were well noted by coach Jan van Straaten.

“In Grade 11, he was made a prefect for the boarding establishment which was very unusual as the boarding prefects are normally only chosen from the matric year," he said. "He just stood out and, as captain of the first XV in matric, he was very good at leading the whole team."

Rob Herring

The man who will replace Best as Ulster's first choice hooker could also be considered as the next skipper.

He has done the job before, named as temporary captain in Best's World Cup absence back in 2015 and then as joint captain alongside Andrew Trimble for the 16/17 season.

"I will have to be a bit more vocal and make more decisions on the pitch than I am used to. It's something I am trying to embrace," he said about the honour in 2015.

Alan O'Connor

The Academy graduate has served as one of the stand-in captains in Best's absence this season.

He first led the side in February 2018, named as skipper for Jono Gibbes' first game in charge; the 59-10 home victory over Southern Kings.

At 26, O'Connor has picked up 88 appearances for Ulster and taken a leading role.

“I say the odd word here and there, nothing much has changed for me in that role apart from running out in front of the lads," he said of the captaincy last year. I try not to mumble my words. You have to keep it short and sharp and get your point across so there is no ambiguity between things.”

Will Addison

An outsider for the role, we will admit, but the 26 year-old was the Sale Sharks captain before moving across the Irish Sea last summer.

He took over the role at just 24 after his natural abilities were recognised. Director of Rugby Steve Diamond said: “Will has continued to impress me with his natural leadership ability and commitment to the club. He is a great communicator and very well respected by everyone at the Sharks."

Since moving to Ulster, he quickly became a fan favourite in his 11 appearances of an injury-hit campaign. He also made his Ireland debut in the Autumn Internationals as his form was recognised by Joe Schmidt.

So which one gets your vote?

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