Kiss delighted at Best’s belated Lions call-up
Replacement captain Peter O’Mahony looking forward to challenge of leading tour
Ulster centre Stuart Olding in action during the RaboDirect Pro12 Final against Leinster at the RDS. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho
Ireland acting head coach Les Kiss and captain Peter O’Mahony today welcomed Rory Best’s call-up by the British and Irish Lions, but claimed he should have been in the original squad.
Best was the biggest omission when the 37-man touring party for Hong Kong and Australia was announced on April 30th with the Ulster hooker losing out to England’s Dylan Hartley.
But a twist of fate has given the 30-year-old his chance after Hartley was banned for 11 weeks for abusing referee Wayne Barnes during Northampton’s Aviva Premiership defeat by Leicester on Saturday, resulting in his exclusion from the Lions.
Kiss, speaking in advance of the two-Test tour of North America which departs Dublin on Saturday, saluted Best as a worthy Lion whose presence will concern Australia.
“It’s something that all of us in this island thought was deserved in the first place, but that’s the way it happens in selection sometimes,” the Australian said.
“We’re extremely happy for what Rory’s got, it’s great reward for everything he’s done over the last four years. He’s been immense for Ulster and Ireland.
“I do know that he’s the type of player Australia will hate to play against and if he gets his chance he’ll take it.”
Best was originally chosen to lead the tour to North America — Jamie Heaslip, Brian O’Driscoll and Paul O’Connell are with the Lions — but that post has now been passed to O’Mahony.
The Munster flanker, who has been capped 14 times, is relishing the role and feels that justice has been done after Best joined the Lions.
“It’s a huge honour for me and my family. I was delighted by the call and delighted for Rory to get his chance with the Lions,” the 23-year-old said.
“We all thought he deserved it in the first place and we should have been sending text messages of congratulation on April 30th.
“This is an exciting Ireland squad with a good mix of youth and experience, so it should be a fun and interesting trip.
“Some things are different when you’re captain, but on the pitch you just do what your normally do.”
Kiss has backed O’Mahony to thrive as skipper.
“It was noted from a young age that Peter had leadership skills and those skills have come through often for Munster and during underage rugby for Ireland,” he said.
“It’s a great opportunity for Peter to feel what it’s like to take a team to a different environment. I believe he will handle it very well.”
A decision will be made on the fitness of Ulster centre Stuart Olding on Thursday ahead of the Ireland departure to the United States on Saturday.
The uncapped 20-year-old went off injured in last Saturday’s RaboDirect Pro12 Final defeat to Leinster just after the hour mark to be replaced by Michael Allen.
An MRI scan showed damage to an ankle and Olding has been wearing a ‘moon boot’ in a bid to aid his recovery.
Munster’s James Downey has been training with the Ireland squad at Carton House and will take Olding’s place if he fails to make it. The former Northampton player is also uncapped at full international level.
Tighthead prop Mike Ross is suffering from a dead leg after the Pro12 decider and has rested up.
Ireland play matches against the United States in Houston on Saturday June 8th and Canada in Toronto the following Saturday.