Sexton pictured kicking during the Captain's Run today. Dan Sheridan/INPHO
Captain's run

Best allays concern over Sexton fitness, plans an unhappy 100th for Gatland

The out-half needed some physio attention at the Aviva Stadium today, but returned to finish out the session, according to the captain.

ON THE VERGE of a 109th cap for Ireland, a feat bettered by only two men, Rory Best is experienced enough to be wholly familiar with more roles than his own.

So when he’s needed to step up and fill in as a coach’s voice, he is well capable of taking himself out of the blinkered mode some players need to be in as the hours tick down towards a Test.

With no coach beside Best to field questions about whether the squad came through today’s captain’s run unscathed, it was left to the captain to address a slight concern over the fitness of Johnny Sexton.

The out-half received some notable physio treatment in the early portion of the session at the Aviva Stadium, but Best reported that the playmaker returned to the field and finished out the run.

“Yeah he’s grand. He’s just getting a bit older, so he needed a bit longer to warm up,” joked the captain.

“He came into the tail end of the session. He let the subs run at the start and then the starters finished off. No concerns.”

Tomorrow’s pivotal clash with Wales (kick-off 14.15)  will move Best ahead of Paul O’Connell in the list of Ireland’s all-time leading caps holders with only Ronan O’Gara and Brian O’Driscoll off in the distance. The Ulster hooker has often referred to ‘little milestones’ such as this as something that he will savour when he has retired. Until then, his focus remains on the imminent contest.

Jack Conan, Bundee Aki, Sean Cronin and Rory Best Billy Stickland / INPHO Billy Stickland / INPHO / INPHO

It’s a notable milestone for Warren Gatland this weekend too, as the former Connacht, Ireland and Wasps coach will take charge of his 100th match in charge of Wales. Best, of course, has played under the Kiwi on two Lions tours as well as noting how his Welsh team has ‘evolved’ over time.

“I think there’s no doubt and you can see it in the way Wales have evolved in the last couple of years, that he’s adaptable.

“To stay for 100 caps at this level is a fantastic feat, and I think we’re very quick to praise players when it happens, so for a coach to be around long enough to do that is a brilliant achievement.

And hopefully he can get a win in his 101st game to celebrate that.

“He’s very prepared. And when he speaks to you as a squad he references back to when he played, and he didn’t want to be out on the pitch for long periods of time. As a player you want sessions to be short, you want to feel you’ve got something from it, and that’s the way he coaches.

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“And if you can get that it keeps the players interested, and if you can keep the players interested you can stay around, because you get performances and success.”

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