Banbridge man Rory Best has been named Ireland captain for the upcoming RBS Six Nations Championship.
The 33 year-old has been confirmed as the man to replace ex-skipper Paul O’Connell. Coach Joe Schmidt made the announcement via email as the squad for February’s opener against Wales was also named.
Best is Ireland’s most-capped hooker with 89 appearances and has previously captained Ireland on four occasions, overseeing three wins.
Luke Marshall and fellow Ulsterman Darren Cave, who missed out on the squad, had thrown their support behind Best’s candidacy, Marshall hailing the Ulster skipper’s inspirational half-time team talk in the remarkable 24-23 Champions Cup comeback win in Oyonnax.
Best’s home truths kick-started Ulster to turn their 23-0 deficit on its head in the thrilling January 10 victory, leaving Marshall extolling his provincial captain’s virtues for the vacant Test role.
“He’s an incredible player and someone who leads from the front,” said Marshall. “That’s one of the first things you look for in a captain.”
And fellow international centre Cave added his endorsement as well.
“I think Rory is one of the main reasons that this club has turned itself around since I started playing, we have signed well and certain people upstairs have done a good job and got good signings in.
“Rory has been the one that the team has been built around.
“Even when he wasn’t captain he was the main man and he has always been the main leader.
“I think it would be a great honour for him and I hope he gets it.”
Leinster’s Jamie Heaslip was thought to be Best’s main rival for the role. The 32 year-old led an injury-hit Irish side to the 43-20 World Cup quarter-final defeat to Argentina in O’Connell’s absence. Heaslip’s overall record as Ireland captain is six wins, five defeats and a draw.
But at the Aviva Stadium on Sunday February 7 against Wales, it will be Poyntzpass farmer and Ulster captain Best who will lead out the Ireland team.
Ulster players Luke Marshall, Jared Payne, Paddy Jackson, Rob Herring, Stuart McCloskey and Andrew Trimble have also been named in Schmidt’s squad.