Ireland captain Rory Best set to join the exclusive 100-cap club

The 34-year-old Ulster hooker has grown into his leadership role.

RORY BEST WILL join an exclusive club on Saturday.

Brian O’Driscoll, Ronan O’Gara, Paul O’Connell, John Hayes, now Rory Best.

Rory Best celebrates winning with his children Ben and Penny Best with his children, Ben and Penny, after Ireland beat the All Blacks. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

The Ulsterman will become the fifth man to win 100 caps for Ireland when Jérôme Garcès signals the beginning of Saturday’s November Test against the Wallabies at the Aviva Stadium [KO 5.30pm, RTÉ 2].

Best will also be captaining Ireland for the 11th time this weekend, and can already count two major achievements among the highlights of his leadership.

While this year’s Six Nations was a difficult one for Ireland, Best is the only Irishman to have captained his side to a win over New Zealand and victory over the Springboks on South African soil.

“He has been excellent,” says Ireland assistant coach Simon Easterby. “He has captained the team to some things that other captains haven’t been able to achieve, like winning a test match in South Africa.

As much as we felt like we missed an opportunity to win a series, he was excellent on that tour.

“And taking the side to Chicago and beating the All Blacks for the first time in our history was pretty special, again he had a big part to play in that. He has a lot of good support around him as well from the senior players who offer a lot of help and guidance and assistance.

“Rory plays with his heart on his sleeve and he is also a very good operator. He works well with the referee in trying to get the most out of situations, even though sometimes the referee won’t take the advice.

Rory Best Best has grown into the Ireland captaincy. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

“We all know that captains have a role to play in that and he is very good and deals with them pretty well. He is in a good place at the moment.”

Best made his Ireland debut back in November 2005, coming off the bench at Lansdowne Road in a 45-7 defeat to the All Blacks. He had to wait a year for his first international start in the 32-15 victory over South Africa, also in Dublin.

His battle with Jerry Flannery for Ireland’s number two shirt in the years that followed brought the best out of both players, before Best firmly established himself in 2011 as injuries took their toll on the Munster man.

Remarkably, Best has started every one of Ireland’s Six Nations games in the last six years – a run of 30 consecutive games in the tournament.

Now, after a Test career that has also taken in three World Cups, the 34-year-old is set to join the short list of Irish centurions.

“On and off the pitch he’s an example to follow for young people, young fellas and even me,” says his 32-year-old team-mate Andrew Trimble.

“I’m only a few years younger than him and I’m still looking up to him and I’ve been looking up to him for a long time.

“So he’s 100% deserving of this accolade of becoming a centurion. He’ll take it and he’ll rise to the occasion but he’ll be humble enough not to make the day about him. He’ll make it about Ireland and getting the result, so that’s what you want from a leader like that and that’s why he’s looked up to so much.”

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Joe Schmidt celebrates with Rory Best after the match Best led Ireland to their first-ever win against the Boks on South African soil. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

Best’s appointment as Ireland captain was a popular one, although he followed in the footsteps of two high-profile legends in O’Connell and O’Driscoll.

“It’s maybe a little bit in between the two,” says Trimble of Best’s captaincy style. “I suppose he can do it all really.

“I’ve watched him develop as a captain and leader, more and more. Even in the last six months more and more of what he says holds a lot of weight and grabs people’s attention.

He’s got that ability to deliver what he has to say and be precise in the way that you’d want the team to be led, being precise and specific about the key messages that are delivered.

“As well as that, whenever you get on the pitch, you just follow him into battle and he’s a guy who sets the example and sets the tone for intensity with and without the ball; he knows the game plan inside and out.

“In defence he knows exactly what he wants to do; get off the line and he’s tough and rugged and hardy. I could go on all day but I’ll started getting slagged! But he’s a guy I’ve looked up to for a long time and he very much deserves this accolade.”

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Murray Kinsella

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