Sean O'Brien Not Rory Best Should Captain Joe Schmidt's Ireland

Daniel Rey@@ReyDanielMFeatured ColumnistJanuary 22, 2016

Ireland's flanker Sean O'Brien (R) is tackled by France's hooker Guilhem Guirado (L) during the Pool D match of the 2015 Rugby World Cup between France and Ireland at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff, south Wales, on October 11, 2015. AFP PHOTO / DAMIEN MEYER


Rory Best was named as the new captain of Ireland by national team coach Joe Schmidt on Wednesday, ahead of Sean O’Brien, Jamie Heaslip and Jonny Sexton.

Rory Best is a “steady hand,” as the Irish Examiner called him, but because of his age, his competition for the No. 2 jersey and the demands of his position, Sean O’Brien not Rory Best should captain Joe Schmidt's Ireland.

So why has Joe Schmidt appointed the Ulster hooker as his skipper? Rory Best is one of the most likeable and personable players in world rugby and is respected by all in Ireland.

One need only look at the reaction to his initial exclusion from the 2013 Lions squad (he later replaced the banned Dylan Hartley) to see the affection for Best in the Emerald Isle.

Stephen Watson @winkerwatson1

Delighted for Rory Best - named the new Ireland captain for the Six Nations Championship

Best has 89 caps, has led Ulster and is a player his team-mates will follow. Nonetheless, he is the wrong forward for the role.

Before looking at the virtues of the other candidates, here are the key reasons why his appointment is flawed.

Firstly, Best’s age. He turns 34 in August and realistically only has two years at most left as an international player. There is no way Best should or will captain Ireland at the 2019 Rugby World Cup in Japan aged 37, so Schmidt will have to appoint a new skipper midway through the World Cup cycle.

Given how Ireland have consistently failed to live up to expectations at World Cups, Japan 2019 should be Schmidt’s priority. His captain at the tournament, and it won’t be Best, would benefit from as much experience leading the side as possible.

Secondly, Rory Best appears to be a stopgap appointment when there really is no need for one. Sean O’Brien is a fine candidate, who has led Ireland once and, crucially, is 28 years old and would be more than able to lead Ireland in Japan at 32. Thirty-seven is just too old.

Thirdly, Rory Best may be Ireland’s first-choice hooker now, but with the player into his 30s, for how long will he be able to hold off the challenge of the dynamic Sean Cronin?

Fourthly, although Joe Schmidt doesn’t need to substitute his hooker for the sake of it, would oppositions prefer to see Best for the final 20 minutes of a match or a fresh Cronin?

I would say Cronin is a tougher prospect, but to do this means taking off the captain, which, despite the wealth of experience Ireland have, is rarely a good move as crucial matches enter their defining stages.

The42.ie @The42_ie

Sean O'Brien as Ireland captain? Who wouldn't follow that guy? https://t.co/J2XNZFQW72 https://t.co/TpJqZwLrV7

So who are the alternatives to Best? Jamie Heaslip has been named vice-captain but doubts remain regarding his attitude and his ability to deal with the media, not to mention his lack of direction when captain in the World Cup quarter-final against Argentina.

Jonny Sexton, meanwhile, is the team’s heartbeat, but it would be wrong to burden the playmaker with any extra responsibility.

With major flaws in the candidacies of Best, Heaslip and Sexton, Joe Schmidt should turn to Sean O’Brien. As Donal Lenihan, in the Irish Examiner, put it:

He is an inspirational figure and despite having little game time recently, displayed enough in Leinster’s win over Munster to suggest he is back to his best. 

He backed that up with a crucial contribution, off the bench, against Connacht at the RDS.

Interviewed as man of the match immediately after that harrowing defeat to New Zealand in 2013, O’Brien was not seeking comfort in any false platitudes. 

He immediately focused on the key mistakes Ireland made in attempting to close out that game and the areas that required improvement in order to beat the very best.

He is a leader and a driver of standards.                                                                                                

In the absence of O’Connell, he is the one that players will now turn to when times get tough. 

That final point is arguably the most important. Despite recent success wining the past two Six Nations, Ireland need a leader for the crucial moments. That is what they had with Brian O’Driscoll and Paul O’Connell, and what they need again.

Rory Best may be the most liked, but O’Brien is the most suited to captaining Ireland.


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