Ulster’s analyst and skills coach Niall Malone is in no doubt that Rory Best should be the next Ireland captain.
The former Ireland, Ulster and Leicester fly-half believes Best is the standout candidate for the post vacated by Paul O’Connell, particularly after his passionate half-time speech last week in France when Ulster stormed back from 23 points down against Oyonnax to win 24-23 to keep their Champions Cup qualifying hopes alive.
They now face Saracens on Saturday in London, hoping to exact revenge for the battering they received at Ravenhill the opening Pool 2 game.
Apart from full-back Louis Ludik, Ulster have no major injury worries, with Ireland centre Jared Payne expected to make his comeback after a broken foot for a first outing since the World Cup. Darren Cave, Nick Williams, Luke Marshall, Weihahn Herbst and Alan O’Connor are also likely to feature in a minor shake-up.
Malone praised Best for his leadership qualities ahead of the Saracens trip. “Rory is a special person, and we are lucky to have him. A lot was mentioned of his half-time speech last week, and he walked past me after the match and even then he looked as if he was welling up around the eyes such was his passion.
“He speaks a lot, and demands the respect of everybody. It’s simple words he speaks and it’s the emotion he brings and what it means to him.
“An Ireland captain? Should be a shoe-in. He would captain Ireland the way he leads Ulster, and I would be amazed if there is a better candidate. He’s been so good for so long and very reliable and as a captain, he is sure of starting which some of the candidates may not be,” said Malone, who expects Ulster to take the game to Saracens on Saturday after the Premiership champions suffered their first defeat at the hands of Harlequins.
“We thought they would win, but they didn’t. Usually when a team like Saracens loses, it gives them a renewed focus which I suppose is bad for us,” said Malone who looked back at the opening game between the two sides.
“For 57 minutes we were leading the game, although we hadn’t really pressurised for a try, and we were just about hanging on. Then with their excellent kicking game, they got a fortunate bounce, scored and unfortunately we never recovered from that. They were just so strong in the last 20 minutes of that game. We just didn’t threaten their goal-line enough and that is something which we have looked at this week, putting them under pressure in their own 22,” said Malone, who believes last week’s turnaround will deliver an injection of belief to the group.
“It’s amazing. It’s funny where momentum comes from. At the start of the match last Sunday, if we were to be honest, we were expected to win, then at half-time we were shell-shocked. The next 40 minutes went so well for us, so the spirit in the changing room has been fantastic. If we had lost the game, it would have been dreadful this week, but with that second-half performance has given us such a boost.”
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