No words from the head coach, just a small bracketed ‘c’ next to Rory Best’s name to signal his appointment as the next captain of Ireland.
Considering the near national trauma that marked the exit of predecessor Paul O’Connell when he suffered a serious hamstring tear that proved the end of his illustrious Test career at the World Cup last October, perhaps the announcement of Best as the man to lead Ireland into next month’s RBS 6 Nations was appropriately low key.
At least the man of the hour was talking, Best, 33, describing the honour of being named national team captain and his intention to do the job his way rather than mimic previous incumbents O’Connell and Brian O’Driscoll.
When Best leads Ireland out at the Aviva Stadium against Wales on February 7 it will be for his 90th Test cap and the Ulster man intends to keep on doing what he has always done.
“The big thing for me is to make sure the values and characteristics that I’ve shown to be brought in as captain, that I stick to them, and I don’t try to be something that is Paul O’Connell or Brian O’Driscoll,” Best said yesterday.
“I have to be the captain that I am and that Joe and the coaches have seen in me, that they chose me as captain.”
Best will check into Ireland camp next Monday at the head of a 35-strong playing group comprising 17 Leinster players, seven Munster, seven Ulster and four from Connacht. They include four uncapped players, Connacht lock Ultan Dillane, Leinster openside flanker Josh van der Flier, Ulster centre Stuart McCloskey and Munster’s back-row captain CJ Stander. Yet none could be prouder than captain Best.
“It was hugely emotional. I know in telling family over the last day or so, it’s been quite emotional for them,” the hooker said.
“We’ve been through a lot of stuff, my career hasn’t exactly been straightforward. There have been a lot of highs, don’t get me wrong, but there have been a few lows along the way. To add this now to the CV is a massive honour and while I didn’t maybe shed a tear, it was a massive honour for me and something that I’m very happy to do.”
Head coach Schmidt spoke of the tough decisions that needed to be made in putting this squad together for the bid to win a third successive RBS 6 Nations title and while Best was the overwhelming favourite for the captaincy, at least in pundits’ eyes, it cannot have been easy for him to bypass Jamie Heaslip, O’Connell’s vice-captain and one of his most loyal lieutenants.
The Leinster No.8 was Declan Kidney’s choice to lead Ireland when he decided Brian O’Driscoll’s captaincy was at an end but when Schmidt took over ahead of the November 2013 Guinness Series, he installed O’Connell, returning Heaslip to the vice-captaincy. It was Heaslip who led Ireland into their quarter-final defeat against Argentina in O’Connell’s absence in Cardiff last October
Heaslip may have missed out but he remains foremost in Schmidt’s selection thoughts. Jordi Murphy and Darren Cave, World Cup squad members three months ago, do not. They, aside from O’Connell, are the only omissions from the group Ireland took to the tournament while scrum-half Isaac Boss also misses out having been a non-playing late call-up for the injured Jared Payne towards the end of the campaign. Schmidt went with just two number nines to England and Wales but in restoring a third he has plumped for Connacht’s Kieran Marmion. There will be room for the return of injured frontliners Cian Healy, Chris Henry and Mike Ross who are each nearing full fitness but will need to prove it before their inclusion later in the championship.
That will also be the carrot for those who missed out on form, including the already capped David Kilcoyne and Fergus McFadden. Whether that extends to Leinster’s Garry Ringrose this time around remains to be seen. Schmidt ignored the clamour for the 21-year-old’s inclusion following a couple of dazzling glimpses of the flying centre’s potential and whilst not referring to Ringrose directly the head coach said: “There are a few new faces but at the same time we have resisted the temptation to include some of the very promising youngsters, allowing them a bit more time to develop as well as the opportunity of further game time with their provinces.
“With plenty of new personnel involved, the Championship is going to be incredibly challenging and the players selected will know they will need to be at their best to be competitive.”
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved