This is the best version of Rory Best we’ve ever witnessed, writes long-time teammate Darren Cave.
Rory Best being ‘past it’ is a great narrative for when you’re chatting with your mates in the pub after a few pints, but it’s just not factually correct. Forget about leadership, he’s the best hooker in Ireland and he has been for a long time. I am unsure as to why so many people find that so hard to see.
People get carried away with the fact that he’s not a big, robust ball-carrier. The way he plays is highly important to this Ireland team. Look at the front-five; we’ve got two of the best ball-carrying props in the Northern Hemisphere, and we’ve got one of the best second-row combinations in world rugby, both of whom are tremendous ball-carriers also in their own unique way. It’s important to have someone different to fit in the middle of them and Rory fits that mould perfectly.
His work ethic, his work on the breakdown on both sides of the ball is incredible. Joe Schmidt previously spoke about how much he hated playing against Rory Best when he was coaching Leinster because of his ability to get on the ball. When you’re in a front-five, and the other four players are robust ball-carriers, you need someone that’s going to clean rucks to the cowshed and back.
I’ve played with Rory my entire career and he’s a stubborn, belligerent competitor. The more he is written off, the better he becomes. He’s always felt that he wanted to retire from rugby after the World Cup, but the more people started talking about, the more he started thinking, “well, I might play on until the end of the season at Ulster”. He is one of those ‘well, I’ll show you‘ kind of guys.
The belief that he’s ‘past it’ is just a soundbite for pub talk. Where is the evidence? There’s no doubt the Ireland lineout has not been consistently rock-solid over the past year, but there are many reasons for that and to land them solely at the feet of Rory Best just isn’t accurate. He was impeccable with the darts against Scotland and successfully completed 100% of his lineouts against Scotland. He played eighty minutes in humid Japanese conditions in a Rugby World Cup against a Tier 1 nation and dominated. That is the absolute highest level. So I ask, what area of his game tells us he’s ‘past it’?
He’s 37, but the narrative that he’s ‘past it’ fits everything except the truth, and the truth is what we saw at the weekend: someone who happens to be 37, delivering as well as anyone else on the pitch from a physical standpoint.
I’ve trained side-by-side with Rory for the last thirteen years and take it from the horse’s mouth, this is, without doubt, the best version of Rory Best that I have ever seen.
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