Sean McMahon reporting from Ireland’s Captain’s Run
Rory Best is looking forward to pulling on the green shirt for the first time since Ireland’s historic Grand Slam triumph against England at Twickenham last March.
A hamstring injury ruled the Ireland captain out of the summer tour against the Wallabies and it also delayed the beginning of his season with Ulster.
Best made his return against Connacht at the Kingspan Stadium at the beginning of October and since that match, the 36-year-old played a further three consecutive games for the northern province.
“Yeah, [feeling] good. I think a bit of an extended preseason, obviously, the hamstring wasn’t quite right in the summer and probably pushed it a bit much.
“We just hit reset and take a nine-week target of that Connacht game on the 4th October and just said ‘look, no matter how good you feel…’. There were games in September that I was watching frustrated that I felt I could have played in but that was the target and that was a more long-term view to get back, to actually do a preseason that I didn’t really get last summer.
“I feel really good. Even not playing last weekend, to come into camp early this week, you just have an extra spring in your step.”
That extra spring in Best’s step will be needed when he faces off against the imposing Agustin Creevy tomorrow night. Argentina will provide the first serious Test of this Autumn series for Ireland and things don’t get easier when the All Blacks rock up to the Aviva Stadium week.
November is also an important month in a different way – Joe Schmidt is expected to make a decision on his future after the 2019 World Cup by the end of the month.
Whether he stays or whether he goes, Schmidt’s time in charge has changed the landscape of Irish Rugby and this is something which Best agrees with.
“What Joe has done for Irish rugby, not just the national team but Leinster, is evident and plain to see in the silverware,” Best said.
“It speaks for itself. No matter what Joe does, he has changed Irish rugby, how we perceive performance and our preparation. His legacy will obviously be silverware and what Leinster have now become and what Ireland are pushing towards becoming and have achieved. It will also be about the coaches that he eventually brings through in years to come.
“We maybe see a bit of it now with Paulie [O’Connell] over in Stade but you will probably start to see that more when guys who have had five, six or seven, ten, years involved with him starting to retire and take up that side of the game. That will probably be the lasting legacy. From a player’s point of view, and even from an Irish rugby fan’s point of view, you want to see the best coaches staying where they are at and he is the best coach I have ever had with.
“He is one of the best coaches in the world. That’s who you want in charge of the national team. He has to do what is right for him and if that is a change then his legacy will go on longer than just the silverware that sits in the trophy cabinets.”
If Schmidt does decide to leave Ireland after the 2019 World Cup, promoting from within would seem like a clever move from the IRFU and there are no shortage of suitable candidates.
“When you look at our coaching staff there is that option, massively. Those guys take a lot, Simon [Easterby] and Faz [Andy Farrell] took a lot of the preparation last week and you saw what happened there.
“Simon has obviously been a head coach at Scarlets. Faz has coached at Saracens who aren’t bad. He has coached with England and he has been a massive part of our success here. So there is plenty of options and plenty of good young coaches around.
“That is the next big step, not just for Ireland but for the provinces, to bring through Irish coaches and not have an over-reliance on foreign coaches because there are plenty there. We’ve just got to bring them through the pathways and let them flourish.”