This weekend’s clash with Wales will mark the last time that Rory Best leads Ireland into battle in the Guinness Six Nations.
The Ulster hooker will take to the field on Saturday for his 117th cap and Johnny Sexton admitted that it will be in the back of the players’ minds to give him a good send-off alongside coach, Joe Schmidt, who also leads Ireland into the Six Nations cauldron for the final time.
“Of course that would be in the back of our mind, it’s not something I don’t think we’ll talk about during the week I think it’ll be about our performance,” Sexton said.
“But when you’ve got two characters like that who have given an incredible amount to Irish rugby over a lot of time, Rory for the last whatever, I don’t know how long he’s been playing 18 years or something like that and then Joe who’s had an incredible impact with Leinster and Ireland.
“When you’ve got two characters like that, it’s in the back of your mind that you want to do the best for them.”
Sexton singled out his skipper, Best, as a selfless individual who leads both on the pitch and off it.
Overall Sexton feels that Best does what’s right for the team every time, even if he may come in for criticism as a result and that is what makes him stand out as a captain.
“Look he’s been a brilliant captain over the last few years, always team first, always very selfless, leads on the pitch with his actions and leads off the pitch and he’s a great character to have around.
“I think one of the best things is, sometimes if the lineout is not going well or something he’ll always still, if the right thing is to go to the corner he’ll say ‘just go to the corner’ and he’ll take responsibility, he knows that the lineout, if the lift isn’t quite right and it goes down that, you know, immediately, you guys probably blame him but he knows it’s not his fault and he’ll just keep going,
“That’s the sign of a brilliant captain, he does what’s right for the team all the time and yeah we’ll miss him when he’s gone but we’ve got a lot of time with him left so we’ll make the most of it.”
Sexton has, on occasion, taken over the captaincy duties from Best but has also come in for criticism recently regarding his on-field temper. When asked what the big difference between himself and the Ulster man is, he didn’t shy away from addressing the one main difference.
“One difference?” Sexton said.
“Look he’s very calm on the pitch, in those heat of the moment battles he can manage to stay calm with the ref and all that, so he probably has one up on me there.”