Captain Rory Best refreshed as Argentina roll into town

Ireland’s stalwart hooker missed summer tour of Australia with a hamstring injury

Rory Best will captain Ireland against Argentina having missed the summer tour of Australia through injury. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

Rory Best will captain Ireland against Argentina having missed the summer tour of Australia through injury. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

 

Rory Best is normally as tough as old boots, and a player who freely admits that unlike injury-prone players he was never encumbered with fast twitch fibres. Unusually for him therefore, Best was sidelined for the Australian tour with a torn hamstring, but less than a year out from the World Cup, the 36-year-old Irish captain returns for Saturday’s meeting with Argentina at the Aviva Stadium (kick-off 6.30pm, live on RTÉ and Channel 4).

Although there has been some heightened speculation as to whether Best will still be captain come the World Cup, Best himself revealed that it was a fairly straightforward conversation with Joe Schmidt about renewing the role.

“Yeah, we didn’t really have that much of a conversation. We always said that if there was a conversation to have then we would have it but not being in Australia we didn’t get that chance like we normally do after a campaign. I chat to him fairly regularly and it was never really mentioned. It was all about planning for this season.”

Best has effectively been Ireland’s full-time captain since last World Cup. The Argentina game will be his 112th overall, and 27th as captain, and his win-loss record (17-8 with one drawn) equates to a 67.3 per cent winning ratio, which is greater than Ireland had under Paul O’Connell, Brian O’Driscoll and Jamie Heaslip.

His extended, nine week pre-season may even have been a blessing in disguise.

“You have to take it with what it is. You want to play rugby and you don’t want to be injured but sometimes you get thrown those curve balls and you just have to deal with it. For me, it was an opportunity to go ‘right, let’s take a bit of an extended break, a longer-term view on it and build back up’, try to get stuff done that I haven’t done before; capacity in the gym and out of the rugby pitch.”

And whatever about the building excitement outside the camp regarding next week’s shoot-out with the All Blacks, Best maintained it was easy to stay focused on Argentina within the squad.

“We were under no illusions way, way back at the start of the summer, we knew the series was coming and we knew Argentina were going to be tough. I think as that Rugby Championship went on, I think everyone outside of our group started to understand how big a challenge Argentina are going to be. We’re not a team that look beyond this game. I think this is going to be such a physical game. It will be a case of when we get to Sunday night, it will be piecing together to see who is fit and take next week when next week comes.”

On foot of reaching number two in the world rankings, some of the newer, younger breed within the Irish squad have openly declared their ambition to achieve the world’s number one ranking.

“I think the beauty of some of these boys is that some of them weren’t even born when we were having tough times, and certainly they weren’t old enough to remember them. They don’t remember us getting beaten by 40, 50 points, 60 points in New Zealand. They weren’t part of set-ups, so they don’t have those skeletons or hang-ups, that maybe some of the older guys have. And that’s great.

“But ultimately the confidence and their ability comes from how hard they work, that comes from the environment they are brought through in.

And it’s a really good sign of Irish rugby that they come through not just with the ability, the confidence is a great thing to have, but the confidence comes from the work they do. And I think it’s a great place to be in, and it is exciting.

“It’s exciting to be around them, because some of them come in and they are a breath of fresh air. They come in and they are all really good guys to be around. Then you get them on the training ground and you get to see what they can do.

“Ultimately it’s about what they can deliver on the pitch, and Jordan (Larmour) from a really young age, you could just see how electric he was. It’s also really good and positive from an Irish point of view when you start to see that potential being realised. And the beauty with Jordan is that we’re only just starting to realise that now, there’s so much more to come from him.”

Joe Schmidt and Rory Best with Michael D Higgins. Photograph: Laszlo Geczo/Inpho
Joe Schmidt and Rory Best with Michael D Higgins. Photograph: Laszlo Geczo/Inpho

Ireland could achieve that number one ranking were they to beat both Argentina and the All Blacks, and were the latter also to lose to England, which Best put in perspective by recalling: “We’ve been well down the rankings at times, and whenever you are down there you want to climb up. But you don’t necessarily see yourself there.

“You’ve got to make sure you bring consistency, every week you’ve got to find a way to get better. Sometimes it’s not even half a per cent, but at this level that can make a big difference.

“So if we were to get to number one in the world it would mean we would have done a lot of things along the way right, and that we’ve done everything we can this week, and then after this weekend is over we’ll look ahead to the week after.

“The ranking is something that comes about because of the way we perform and that is a consequence of how we prepare.”

Best was also asked what the future might hold beyond the World Cup were Joe Schmidt to stand down.

“What Joe has done for Irish rugby, not just the national team but Leinster, is evident and plain to see in the silverware. It speaks for itself. No matter what Joe does, he has changed Irish rugby, how we perceive performance and our preparation.

“His legacy will obviously be silverware and what Leinster have now become and what Ireland are pushing towards becoming and have achieved. It will also be about the coaches that he eventually brings through in years to come. We maybe see a bit of it now with Paulie over in Stade but you will probably start to see that more when guys who have had five, six or seven, ten, years involved with him starting to retire and take up that side of the game.

“That will probably be the lasting legacy. From a player’s point of view, and even from an Irish rugby fan’s point of view, you want to see the best coaches staying where they are at and he is the best coach I have ever worked with.

“He is one of the best coaches in the world. That’s who you want in charge of the national team. He has to do what is right for him and if that is a change then his legacy will go on longer than just the silverware that sits in the trophy cabinets.”

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