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Decision on Ireland's World Cup captaincy not finalised, says Schmidt

Rory Best remains the favourite to lead Ireland in Japan.

JOE SCHMIDT SAYS a decision on Ireland’s World Cup captaincy has not been finalised yet but highlighted that he and his coaching team are ignoring “external noise” about Rory Best’s form.

The Ireland skipper, who has been captain since 2016, has faced criticism after his performance in his team’s heavy defeat to England at Twickenham last weekend, with some critics questioning his place in the side at the age of 37.

rory-best-dejected-late-in-the-game Best captained Ireland last weekend at Twickenham. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

Asked whether a decision on Best captaining Ireland to the World Cup has been finalised, Schmidt indicated that wasn’t the case.

“No roles have been finalised for the World Cup until we name our 31 later on next week, so no one takes anything for granted,” said Schmidt yesterday.

“Rory is currently captain and he’ll continue to be captain until further notice really and if that notice comes in the short-term, then that’s a discussion I’ll have with Rory but, at this stage, it’s not on our agenda.”

It does seem highly unlikely that Best will be removed from his role as captain, having led Ireland to major successes in recent years, with the 2018 Grand Slam, two wins over the All Blacks and a maiden Test win against the Springboks on South African soil among his achievements.

Schmidt has been loyal to – and very often rewarded by – the Ulster man, who will retire following the World Cup, although the Ireland coach did underline that no one’s position within the Ireland set-up was a given.

Best was due to carry out a commercial engagement today, until his appearance was cancelled at late notice yesterday and he could now be involved in Ireland’s clash with Wales on Saturday. Meanwhile, Ireland prop Tadhg Furlong was also pulled from a separate planned commercial event today.

“It’s a little bit of extra time for those guys to get a little bit more conditioning and that’s kind of player-requested,” explained Schmidt, after “increased training commitments” was cited by the PR firm as the reason Best pulled out of his appearance.

“They feel like they just need to catch up a little bit more and because one of the rules the players came up with was that they don’t do commercial gigs during match weeks they’re involved with. It probably gives you a good indication that those guys think they might be involved, so they are trying to get everything they can in the right shape so they can be as competitive as they can be on Saturday.”

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niall-scannell Niall Scannell is set for an opportunity this weekend. Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

With Niall Scannell likely to have an opportunity to show his qualities from the start against Wales this weekend, it appears Best could be used off the bench at the Principality Stadium.

Munster man Scannell will be eager to grab his opportunity and convince Schmidt that he should be a genuine starting option at the World Cup, while Sean Cronin and Rob Herring are the other hooker options for Ireland.

And while Schmidt indicated that Ireland are ignoring the criticism of Best, he did stress that form was important going into the World Cup.

“To be honest, if there is external noise of that nature then there is no internal noise of that nature,” said Schmidt.

“Probably for Rory, it is that internal noise that is most relevant to him because that is where the decisions are going to be made and, at this stage, there are no decisions that have been made in that direction.

“So, there are guys who are going to get an opportunity this weekend and if they perform better than any player who played last weekend, then there is always a contest and you have got to keep that contest alive.”

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