CAPTAINING THE LIONS will surely still rank as a proud moment in Rory Best’s career but, in remembering it, the hooker will recall a poor personal and team performance.
Having earned a late call-up to the Lions, following Dylan Hartley’s suspension, Best travelled to Australia with every hope of starting the Test Series. His throwing radar had suffered the occasional off-screen blip during the Six Nations but he would have towering Lions such as Richie Gray, Paul O’Connell and Ian Evans to aim for.
The writing may have already been on the wall when he was named, as captain, to face the Brumbies. Jake White’s team rumbled the tourists 14-12 and none of the starting XV featured in the first Test [not even internationally retired Shane Williams].
Best was targeted at the lineout and compounded that with a poor throwing game. The captain was called ashore after 58 minutes and looked a broken man after the final whistle.
It says a lot about Best’s character that he went back to Ulster and worked exceedingly hard during the off-season to right his throwing wrongs. His lineouts have improved at provincial level and, with Devin Toner calling the shots against Samoa, he connected with all six jumpers he aimed for. His breakdown work remains top notch and he had a great steal to set up and Ireland attack in the lead-up to Sean O’Brien’s try.
“He has been playing well for Ulster,” said Ireland’s forwards coach John Plumtree on Friday. “His throwing has been pretty consistent and he threw nicely against Samoa last weekend. There wasn’t a lot of pressure on him from the Samoan defensive lineout but you’ve still got to nail those.
I’ve been really happy with him since I’ve arrived and I think he’s enjoying some good form. I’m sure he’s looking forward to Australia as he’s marking a pretty experienced campaigner in Stephen Moore.”
Former Connacht hooker Adrian Flavin told TheScore.ie: “Rory is in flying form and his main focus will be on taking on a decent Australian lineout unit rather than focusing on any troubles he suffered in Australia. He leads from the front and I always found him a tough guy to play against. He goes about his business really well and is not a shouter or screamer on the pitch. He leads by example.
“No matter what happens — the lift, jump, timing or call — whenever a throw goes wrong, everyone looks at the hooker. The guys in the lineout will know what went wrong but the focus is always on the hooker. The main thing, for Best and Ireland, is that whatever was going wrong seems to have been fixed.”
Rory Best reflects on the Lions’ midweek loss to the ACT Brumbies. INPHO/Dan Sheridan
Flavin added: “His throw for that lineout maul, and the way Ireland steered in and out of trouble [against the Samoans] to get Peter O’Mahony in for that try, was very impressive.”
The return of throwing accuracy is there and the breakdown work will be much needed against the Wallabies. The new scrum laws actually reward hookers who ‘hook’ and steal at scrum. That is another of Best’s strengths and one that makes him vital in the important eight days ahead for Irish rugby.
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