Best could be yet to come for Irish skipper

Hooker has to live with comparisons with O’Driscoll, O’Connell

Gulf News

Dublin: Rory Best will followed in the large footsteps of Irish icons Brian O’Driscoll and Paul O’Connell in reaching the 100 cap landmark on Saturday when he led them out against Australia.

However, despite the hooker being 34-years-old — albeit a pretty sprightly one — Ireland’s defence coach Andy Farrell believes he could crown his career by leading the British and Irish Lions on their daunting tour of New Zealand next year.

Best, who made his debut back in 2005 and was a member of the Ireland squad that won only their second Five/Six Nations Grand Slam in 2009, did his chances no harm by skippering the Irish to a historic win over world champions the All Blacks in Chicago three weeks ago.

“He’s outstanding,” said Farrell, who is strongly fancied to be part of Warren Gatland’s coaching team.

“There’s no doubt that he’s a contender when he’s doing as good a job as he is for his national team and his national team is doing pretty well.

“He’s a big part of that so he has to be right up there doesn’t he?”

Best, who is married to Jodie a teacher and has a son Ben and a daughter Penny, says now is not the time for assessing the enormity of the achievement in reaching the century mark.

“I think there’s a lot made of turning 30,” said Best, who in his rare spare moments tends to his cattle farm.

“Everyone then says you’re done. But for me age is just a number.

“I think it will probably be more important whenever I eventually do retire, which will hopefully be a while, and you sit back and look at everything you’ve achieved.

“But as I say, when I do look back this will rank up there as one of, if not the best achievements I’ve had in the game,” added Best, who despite his serious public persona is renowned for being a joker in the dressing room.

For Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt, who has been blessed since taking over in 2013 in having the likes of O’Driscoll and O’Connell and now Best to bring on the fresher faces, the Northern Irishman may be quiet on the pitch but he is an ideal captain.

“He’s calm in the moments, when you need to be calm, when you need to get your heart-rate down and be accurate but when you need your heart-rate up and you need to be working, he can be leading there as well,” said Schmidt.

“The biggest two similarities I’d make with him and Paul O’Connell are, firstly, their preparation; they go through the most thorough preparation they can to make sure physically they’re ready to go.

“Secondly neither of them say a lot. Neither of them talk a lot. There are other guys who say things in the team, he is action-focused and he just gets on and does his bits of the game really well and he’ll spur others on when required.

“I’ve the utmost respect for him.”

Best, who spoke out vociferously for Britain to stay in the European Union during the referendum campaign saying an OUT vote would be disastrous for the farming community, also engenders the same level of respect from his teammates such as standout flanker Sean O’Brien.

“Rory’s one of these fellas who’s always thinking of the bigger picture and who’s always looked after the younger guys when they’ve come in — myself included,” said 29-year-old O’Brien.

“He’s a phenomenal player and a leader and someone you look to when you’re under pressure. It’s going to be a great day for him. He’ll continue to do what he’s done for us 99 times before.”

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