SIX NATIONS: Rory is the ‘Best’ man to lead Ireland insists Tommy O’Donnell

Rory Best leads the Ireland team during a training session
Rory Best leads the Ireland team during a training session

Rory Best hands Ireland the perfect leadership mix and should continue as captain for the summer tour to South Africa, according to Tommy O’Donnell.

Ulster hooker Best assumed the captaincy for the RBS 6 Nations after Paul O’Connell’s retirement, guiding injury-hit Ireland to a respectable third-placed finish.

Best was coy on his chances of skippering Ireland for the three-Test tour to South Africa in June, but Munster flanker O’Donnell has offered a weighty endorsement of the 33-year-old’s tenure.

“I would certainly back Rory to continue as captain, he has always been a natural leader in the squad, ever since I came in,” said O’Donnell.

“There is a great abundance of leaders in this squad, and yes Paulie was that talismanic leader for a long time, but Rory was always one of the vice-captains chipping in.

“And he’s just stepped up to the main role now, and he’s doing a very good job of it.”

Linchpin fly-half Johnny Sexton’s increasingly vocal role has been evident at almost every turn across the Six Nations, the 30-year-old leading several captain’s run training sessions, and talking passionately in pre-match huddles.

Ireland closed out third place in the Six Nations with Saturday’s 35-25 victory over Scotland in Dublin, with Sexton again offering a pivotal performance.

Ulster captain Best has allowed Sexton such scope to direct operations behind the scrum in a bid to maximise Ireland’s attacking approach.

Back-rower O’Donnell believes Best has struck the right balance between hard-line leadership and inclusivity, and now believes Ireland’s most-capped hooker should continue to lead Joe Schmidt’s men.

Sexton would be an obvious alternate captaincy candidate, but O’Donnell believes Ireland get the best from their outside-half by handing him the keys to the back line and no extra burdens.

“It’s great to have that depth of leaders,” said O’Donnell.

“It’s good to have that mix, because Johnny’s got to run the game and control the back line.

“He can control that so efficiently and when he’s firing he really rips back lines apart.

“So it’s great to have Rory in the pack leading the pack, and he can talk to the referee.

“And Johnny’s free to be Johnny and rip up back lines.”