Rory Best has argued that there is no need to start Alun Wyn Jones in the first test against the Springboks as there are enough leaders in the Lions squad.
Jones returned to playing against the Stormers just three weeks after the Welshman dislocated his shoulder against Japan and will resume his role as tour captain of the British and Irish Lions.
While the Wales legend would have been expected to start in the first test before the tour began, his place in the starting team is in doubt due to his lack of game time and the impressive form of other Lions locks.
Best was speaking as an ambassador for Specsavers for Farm Safety Week and argued that Jones should not be rushed into the starting team based on his leadership abilities.
It’s Test Match week so who makes YOUR #LionsRugby XV?
— British & Irish Lions (@lionsofficial) July 19, 2021
Rory Best on why he wouldn’t start Alun Wyn Jones in the first test.
“I think what happens is that at the higher levels [having Jones’ leadership] becomes less important. Yes, you need a focal point and you need a leader there for everyone to get around,” Best said.
“But I think the impact of playing Alun Wyn Jones for him coming back to play for the Ospreys against Ulster versus Wales against Ireland or the Lions against South Africa – I think it’s diminished each time you go up.
“If he doesn’t start at the weekend and Conor’s captain if he’s in the 23 that’s another layer of leadership that you know is going to be there, even in terms of leading the bench.
“It’s a bit of a strange one because for me, if you’re picking on form it’s Itoje and Henderson. I don’t believe that he’s brought Alun Wyn Jones out to not involve him in any of the tests.
“Whether it’s this weekend or whether it’s one of the next two, I’m not sure. But I would probably put him on the bench because I think to have him around is big. I think on what he’s done he would be the next best guy in there.
“But I just think if you’re going into a game like this you pick your best players and there are enough leaders around the place to fill the gaps.”
The Lions’ decision-making came under critisicms against South Africa ‘A’.
While there are plenty of leaders in the Lions squad, including temporary tour captain Conor Murray, England captain Owen Farrell, Scotland captain Stuart Hogg and Ulster captain Iain Henderson, the team’s decision-making did come under criticism against South Africa ‘A’.
In the late stages of the first half the South Africans were reduced to 13 men after picking up two yellow cards in quick succession, while the Lions were camped five metres from their try line.
Instead of going for a scrum and attempting to take advantage of the two-man advantage out wide, the Lions opted to go for pick and goes, which the South Africans were able to defend against very well.
The South Africans were able to hold the Lions out until half-time and Murray, who was captaining a team for the first time at senior level, was criticised for allowing the forwards to persist with pick and goes.
Two-time Lions tourists Best questioned whether it was Murray’s inexperience as a captain which led to those decisions, but acknowledged that the order may have come from head coach Warren Gatland.
Rory Best on ‘one of the hardest things to do as a captain.’
“I think whenever you win a series of penalties if they really wanted to go for a scrum the message comes on all the time and one of the hardest things to do as a captain is to filter through what exactly you want to use,” Best explained.
“When you’re young and inexperienced you feel as if you have to listen to everything and when you get a bit older and longer in the tooth you go, ‘I don’t want to hear this stuff, get away from me’ to whoever is bringing the message on.
“Of course the scrum would have made sense with a back row and a scrum-half off. But at the same time there was one stage when the commentators went on and on about this, they actually paused it and within the screen there was seven or eight South Africans around the ruck.
“They had two in the bin and they really didn’t have many covering the outside of that. So yes, a scrum would have left them a first phase launch but actually there was plenty of opportunities to go wide even within that.
“The great thing about decisions you make in rugby is you can make what is perceived to be a bad decision or a good decision by how you execute it and vice versa.
“It’s harder to know whether the Lions tactically wanted to keep battering or whether they were just sort of happy enough. It’s hard to know with that one because at that stage of the game it was probably about winning more than anything else.”
Rory Best on the environment in the Ireland squad under Joe Schmidt.
Former Ulster and Ireland lock Dan Tuohy recently came out and admitted that he felt “belittled and scared” under Joe Schmidt.
Tuohy described the former Ireland head coach as a “scary character” and that he and other players in the squad didn’t enjoy the atmosphere that Schmidt had cultivated within his camps.
Best, who captained his country from 2016 to 2019, played under Schmidt for Ireland for the final six years of his career and argued that the Kiwi coach created a pressurised environment to get his players ready for test rugby.
“I think the big thing is that Joe Schmidt created an environment that was pressurised because that’s what international rugby is. He’s not there to please everyone and he’s not there to make friends,” Best commented.
“He’s there to get an Irish team which was inconsistent and didn’t perform on the big occasions and were always seen as this golden generation that didn’t achieve anything into a team that achieved. And that’s what he did.
“I think that some people thrive in those pressurised environments and some people don’t. But ultimately, one of the big things he always said to us was whenever he put pressure on us – and when we made mistakes he put more pressure on us – was that the opposition on Saturday are going to put more pressure on again.
“If he’s nice to us and holds our hand through the week then all of a sudden bang, you’re in a test match and Wales are trying to knock you backwards and you’re going ‘Oh, they’re not meant to do this.’
“It’s not good for you as a person, as a player and the team. It also doesn’t allow you to be consistent and it doesn’t allow you to perform at the top of your game. Joe’s environment was always an environment that I loved because I love to be challenged and I love to get better.
“If you didn’t get better you knew there was people beside you that were trying to get better and move past you. I never saw it as anything more than him putting pressure on you and what sort of personality are you? Can you cope with that pressure?”