"There are very few of us born to inspire solely with our words. It's actions" - Rory Best 3 weeks ago

"There are very few of us born to inspire solely with our words. It's actions" - Rory Best

This World Cup should see Rory Best surpass Keith Wood in the list of players to have captained Ireland the most times.

Brian O'Driscoll leads the way on 83 Test appearances as captain while Wood had the honour 36 times. Best has led Ireland out on 34 occasions and Sunday's World Cup opener against Scotland will be No.35.

Before he set off for Japan, and just days after his Aviva Stadium send-off in the win over Wales, we sat down with Best to talk all about captaincy duties, leadership and, he hopes, going out on a high.

Best spoke with Baz & Andrew's House of Rugby for 25 minutes about all that has led up to this point and about what will be his final World Cup appearance, and his Irish swansong.

Best had captained Ireland on a few occasions - on a 2009 tour to North America and in the 2012 Six Nations - but he got the full-time gig ahead of the 2016 Six Nations.

"It was January of 2016 and Joe [Schmidt] basically goes, 'I'm not sure where this is going to go because, obviously, the World Cup is a bit away, but we want you to be captain. You came out on top of the [squad] votes. As long as you're happy to do it, we'd love you to be captain'.

"We said from the start that we'd get through that Six Nations and then sit down before the summer tour. Because of my age at the time [33] we said we'd do it that way and do it the next summer. But we did it once that summer [2016] then never really mentioned it again.

"I went to Joe once and said, 'Look, do we need to talk about this?' and he said, 'No. I don't see any reason why we need to. I don't see that you're looking to finish up any time soon. As far as I'm concerned, you're the captain until one or the both of us need to have a conversation about it'."

2016 saw Ireland win their first ever Test match in South Africa yet leave the country with regret that they had not claimed the series. Late that year, Best was captain at Soldier Field, Chicago as Ireland defeated the All Blacks for the first time in their history.

Defeat in Cardiff scuppered any 2017 Six Nations hopes but a Grand Slam-denying win over champions England ended that campaign on a high. Best made his second Lions tour and captained the midweek side on a few occasions. 2018 was a step-up again as Best and Ireland won a Grand Slam, won a Test Series in Australia and downed New Zealand in Dublin.

Rory Best

2019 was a crash back to earth as Wales and England did them serious damage in the Guinness Six Nations and then we had the 57-15 World Cup warm-up loss to the English that suddenly - due in large part to continuing lineout struggles - had Best's captaincy being questioned. Asked if he was concerned for his captaincy, and even World Cup participation, prospects, Best commented:

"I think you're always worried. Anyone from the outside that is thinking that you don't ever worry about your position in a squad, either don't know what it is like to be in there or underestimate how...

"Like, some of the best players that I've ever played with are some of the... I won't say insecure as they are very comfortable with what they can produce but they are also very self-assured about what their best looks like and [know] what it looks like when they're not at it. It's that fear factor that sometimes drives you on to be better. That knowing that someone better could get your spot makes you do that extra 10 minutes more than that guy is doing."

This pre-season was no different and, looking around at the extended Irish squad, Best counted four hookers, including himself. Knowing that three would only travel to Japan immediately focused the mind, and intensified the training.

"Ultimately, for me," says Best, "Joe is the best coach I've ever worked with - he's one of the best coaches about - and for him to have that confidence in me is obviously saying something.

"Joe has been great for me because it's about having supreme power athletes but he also knows the importance of the stuff that I do and the stuff that possibly isn't seen as much. He puts as much weight on that as the guy that gets the score in the corner.

"He has put a lot of stock in that, during his time with Ireland, especially with some ones where people can't figure it out. It's because he can trust them, he knows they are smart rugby players and he knows that when the pressure comes on, that they can deliver, more often than not."

That, says Best, is why Schmidt opted for a lot of reliable lieutenants from his three seasons with Leinster. One of those lieutenants was Devin Toner - Schmidt's go-to lock for six years as Ireland head coach - but he was the high profile cut from the 31-man World Cup squad. With Jordi Murphy also missing out, Best reflected on the fact that only 8 of the matchday 23 that helped defeat New Zealand in 2016 were heading to Japan.

"You look at the squad depth and age profile now, and I look at some of the players with a lot of caps that I played with, and it just shows that time stops for nobody...  it's often about what is next and, even with that win over Nw Zealand, we arrived back in Ireland on the Monday night and the next morning we were all looking at Canadian player profiles. That's just the way it is and the turnover of players is big. That's a credit to the provinces - that we're not relying on just the starting 15 any more, or four or five key players."

As captain, Best is often the public face of the team. the man that has to front up in interviews, win, lose or draw. That will be the case in Japan and Best will have a full plate, as per usual, but he knows how to cope with the demands at this stage.

"Part of the thing with captaincy is trying to balance it and not allowing it to affect your preparations. There's a lot of things that you can get dragged, left, right and centre, to do but it's about getting that done as best you can but then, very quickly, going, 'Right, what do I need to do? What does the selfish side of me need to do to make sure I'm ready?'

"Because, ultimately, the best thing you can do as a captain is to perform within the team. There are very few of us born to inspire solely with our words. It's actions and a little bit of words as well. That's the big thing."

Words first then actions. 37 years young and still striving to set the example.

Rory Best is encouraging people to be extra mindful of family and friends who might be struggling with their hearing, in his role as Specsavers Audiologists’ ambassador. (Photo: Dan Sheridan - INPHO)

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