Schmidt keeps faith in Best for captaincy

Skipper Rory Best training with the Ireland squad this week
Skipper Rory Best training with the Ireland squad this week
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Rory Best will captain Ireland for this season then head coach Joe Schmidt will reassess his World Cup 2019 plans next summer.

Schmidt told Best in the off-season he wanted the Ulster hooker to lead Ireland for this campaign, and then review the situation.

The 104-cap stalwart will be 37 by the time the 2019 World Cup starts and only John Hayes has been capped for Ireland at that age.

Best revealed his pride at being reassigned the captaincy for another year, insisting taskmaster boss Schmidt would not have flinched at making a change now.

“If Joe had wanted to make a change of captain, he would have made the change,” said Best, who has shaken off a hamstring problem to lead Ireland’s autumn Test opener against South Africa in Dublin this evening.

“But he said early enough in one of the summer camps that as long as I was happy to continue, that I would be captain again, and then we’d reassess at the end of the season, on where we were, what’s going on, and how I felt.

“And I suppose that’s probably something for the end of the season.

“But it was nice to be asked again. When you’re in that position you never like to assume anything, so it was good when Joe said they’d like me to do it again for the season.

“It gave me the confidence that he liked what I was doing, that he felt I was doing a good job.”

The 35-year-old Best led Ireland to the milestone maiden victory over the All Blacks in Chicago last November and captained the midweek team in the summer’s British and Irish Lions tour.

When quizzed on his chances of leading Ireland at the next World Cup, Best replied: “I think it’s a difficult one, because you’re never too sure what’s round the corner.

“It is a cliche, I’m sure you’re bored of hearing it, but it is about the game tomorrow.

“With a side the quality of South Africa, it’s important for us to gel quickly and put in a performance in a massive Test. Looking further afield would be foolish for us with the amount of quality coming to the Aviva tomorrow.”

Best admitted his captaincy is rendered all the easier by the increasing leadership qualities running through Ireland’s ranks.,

“Captaincy only becomes a burden when you’re looking around for people to share the load with you,” said Best.

“We have young guys really growing into leaders, as well as some vastly experienced captains at all levels.

“Young guys like Tadhg Furlong and Iain Henderson are stepping up, but they also have people to learn from.

“And all of them I would lean on for help and support, you can’t do it all yourself at this level.”

p Dylan Hartley knows England are caught in their rivals’ crosshairs after climbing out of the doldrums under Eddie Jones.

Jones’ men have amassed 19 victories under the guidance of their Australian head coach, tasting defeat only once when a Grand Slam was denied by Ireland in March.

“Naturally just being England we’ve always had a target on us,” the Red Rose captain said.

“But now we’re not the surprise any more. We expect to give people a good, hard game and I think that now people know that. Maybe we are targeted and must be better now.

“We’ve had two great years as an evolving team, as a bit of an unknown team. But two years out from a World Cup we’ve got to be better.”

“People are obviously aware now that we’re an improved team and we need to kick on and improve.”

England are chasing a ninth successive victory over Argentina knowing that it will be the final time they collide before meeting in a heavyweight Pool C showdown at the World Cup.

Second place has been cemented in the global rankings, but Hartley insists they will not be content until they rise to the pinnacle of the sport.

“When we prepare for a game it’s all about that game, but at the right time we speak about the bigger picture, which is about being the best team in the world and winning a World Cup,” Hartley said.

“Our belief’s been growing, but now it’s there 100 per cent that we can be better, that we can get to number one and we win a World Cup.

“If you don’t have these kind of goals, these dreams, and you don’t talk about them, then you’ve got no chance of achieving them. You’ve got to talk about it.”

England completed a 2-0 series victory over Argentina in June, but Hartley is determined to show they have improved since - a task that will be made possible if Pumas talisman and hooker Agustin Creevy is brought to heel.

“We want to be a better performance in a team that’s evolved since the summer,” Hartley said.

“Results were good in the summer but there were things in the game that weren’t quite good enough. Set-piece for one. And we were on the wrong side of too many penalties.

“Obviously you’re playing Argentina, so what makes them tick? Set-piece. And who’s in the middle of that - Agustin Creevy.

“Creevy is the captain and he makes them tick. I want us to evolve as a team and pull away. I want us to be so much better than we were in the summer.”