Banbridge man Rory Best says it’s another dream come true after he was named Irish captain.
The 33 year-old will lead his country into the upcoming RBS Six Nations Championship, after coach Joe Schmidt announced the hooker as Paul O’Connell’s successor.
After taking on the role, Best was keen to pay tribute to the former skipper, whose international career was ended by a hamstring injury sustained against France in the World Cup group stage. The bullish Bann man did, however, say he wouldn’t be afraid to make his mark on the Irish captaincy.
“Paulie was one of, if not the best captain I ever played under,” he said. “You’ve got to learn from that and you have to take bits from it. It would be silly not to but ultimately you have to be your own person and put your own stamp on it.
“He was very much a talismanic captain and that is the way I’ll try to be in leading by what I say and in my actions. It’s a big challenge following on from Paulie but one I am relishing.”
Best has every reason to believe he has what it takes to fill the giant-sized boots left in O’Connell’s wake.
He is the current Ulster skipper and Ireland’s most-capped hooker with 89 caps to date. He has even captained Ireland on four occasions so far, leading the way to three victories.
“It’s a massive honour for me and my family,” he said of his new role, “and it is something you dream of when you are growing up playing for Ireland. It’s something I am privileged to do and I’m very much looking forward to it.”
Wednesday’s announcement was met with widespread approval accross Ireland, particularly amongst a delighted Ulster support.
Best had been up against Leinster’s Jamie Heaslip for the role. As Schmidt deliberated between the two, his announcement was eagerly anticipated amongst the island’s rugby fans - even by one inside the Best household.
“I have a five year old son who is a bit of a rugby fan and he might have told everyone else if I had told him,” explained Rory, who was sworn to secrecy until the official announcement.
“I had a missed call from him (Joe Schmidt) so I had to ring him back and didn’t know what he wanted.
“I was hoping it was good news and it was fairly obvious with the smile on my face that it was. Only me and my wife knew and we had to keep it fairly quiet. ”
Best will first lead out the side on Saturday January 7 against Wales at the Aviva Stadium. Ireland are searching for three Six Nations title on the bounce - but they’re not looking any further ahead than the opening battle.
“We have been consistent under Joe because we have only looked at the next game in front of us and we haven’t planned anything for the end of March,” said the captain.
“We just look at the next game and it’s a very difficult one. Wales are coming off the back of a successful World Cup and with a few injured players coming back in, they are a really strong side. That is all we’ll be concentrating on. For us it’s about making sure that from week to week and game to game, we perform.”