IN WHAT WILL undoubtedly prove a highlight of his seven-year international career, 29-year-old Rory Best will captain the Irish side to face Scotland at the Aviva Stadium on Saturday.
The first time he has fulfilled the role since the 2009 summer tour of North America, the occasion will not be without a broader historic resonance: in earning his 58th Test cap, the Armagh native will draw level with Keith Wood, another hooker and captain of the national team, on the list of the island’s most capped internationals.
Announced this afternoon as a replacement for the Munster’s Paul O’Connell, Best declared himself “honoured” to be have been granted the role:
“It’s obviously a great honour to asked to captain the side on Saturday. You know, it’s something – captaining all teams, even under-age teams – you always dream of doing. It was very unfortunate that Paulie’s out, and it’ll be a huge loss, but I was very honoured when Declan asked me to captain the side…
“I think the captaincy has come on the back of Paul’s injury. He’s a massive loss and will be greatly missed, both as a player and person, but anytime you get to captain your country – you must be doing something right. The higher you go, the margin for error is reduced. You have to put in the training and hope it pays off on the day.”
Best’s contentment in the face of achieving a lifetime goal is tempered by the difficulty of the task facing him. Without the services of both O’Connell and first-choice scrum-half Conor Murray, Ireland are charged with overhauling Andy Robinson’s Scotland, who arrive in Ireland buoyed by a pair of spirited, if unfulfilling, performances against England and France.
“I think Scotland are going really well at the minute. They’ve been very unlucky with some of the results, but the performances have been very good. They’re very dangerous. We know we’re going to have to be on our money on Saturday. They play a lot of rugby – they play some very good rugby – it’s really going to be a massive challenge for our defence.”
Though reluctant to engage with the topic too enthusiastically, Best expressed his satisfaction at news of Ulster’s signing of Tommy Bowe. The winger, who has scored five tries in this year’s Six Nations, will rejoin the province on a three-year contract next season.
“Tommy’s a world-class player and a world-class finisher. He shown it for Ireland over the last three games. It’s a great coup for us to get him home again, but I suppose that’s next season. If Tommy can keep his rich vein of form and try-scoring going on Saturday that will be great from an Ireland point of view.”
Kick-off in the encounter is scheduled for 17:30.