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Friday 20 September 2019

Captain still the Best man

Other hookers haven't staked a better claim

Rory Best is still the man to be the number 2 for Ireland
Rory Best is still the man to be the number 2 for Ireland

The calls have come for Rory Best to be de-robed and even returned to his province. However, this seems to be unfair criticism as the Ulsterman has been made made a scapegoat for some of Ireland's failings at Twickenham.

Age

Age is only a number, isn't that what're told?

The combination of the captaincy and the call of 'father time' make Best vulnerable, especially when Ireland look vulnerable.

The last thing a hooker loses is his throwing technique and to set this aspect of his game as a reason for demotion is a 'red herring.'

It is rucks hit, scrum strength, muscle in the maul, overall work rate that reveal the right man for the job.

In fairness, Sean Cronin, 33, is getting on too, while Rob Herring, 29, has been around the block and Niall Scannell, 27, should be in his prime.

Arton House

What no one on the outside can use for information for or against the argument is what is going on inside Ireland's camp. The fierce intensity of pre-season would have been revealing.

Best is one of a select few that have not missed a single day of pre-season.

This speaks to his conditioning and durability when younger men are going down like nine pins.

Sure, there are the well-documented cases of Jonathan Sexton and Joey Carbery, but what about Cian Healy, Devin Toner, Herring, who have all had scares and the likes of Keith Earls and Jack Conan, who have not even played yet?

If Best's game was ageing any more this month than in the previous 12, it would have been quickly diagnosed by the various scientific measurements used by Ireland.

Set-piece

What people forget when they look at Keith Wood, Ireland's only other World Player of the Year, on YouTube is that, like Cronin, he was a back held hostage to a forwards' body.

Coach Joe Schmidt will simply not countenance a hooker without the basics of scrum and lineout.

It is what the Ireland strike attacks are launched from and instability in those areas undermine everything.

Best is the finest scrummager of the four Irish hookers.

He is the second-best thrower behind Niall Scannell, better than Rob Herring and Sean Cronin, who has the last Six Nations in Rome and last Saturday to rue.

Competition

None of Scannell, Herring or Cronin have yet convinced Schmidt, Simon Easterby, Greg Feek and Andy Farrell they are the better man.

Scannell has all the attributes of an international hooker as a fine thrower with the right frame for work in the tight. However, he has shown a tendency to be ill-disciplined, getting on the wrong side of the officials.

This is a stain against his campaign to be number two as Ireland is renowned for the lowest penalty count among elite nations.

The Irish lineout did not go any better when Cronin had the assistance of Toner at Twickenham.

All things being equal, Herring is probably the best all-round hooker on the roster.

He has been hampered by the back spasm and, over the long-term, the decision to play behind Best at Ulster rather than move away.

This all adds up to the fact that none of Best's rivals have seized the openings that have come their way.

They haven't stepped up when Best has stepped out.

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