“I Think He Has A Really Good Chance” – Rory Best On The Irish Players In Contention For Lions Selection
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By now Warren Gatland has his coaching ticket will probably have a fair idea in terms of who will be in their British and Irish Lions squad to tour South Africa, with just one weekend of action left before he announces his squad.
Gatland no doubt will be keeping a close eye on Leinster’s Heineken Champions Cup semi-final clash with La Rochelle, as well as a number of other games but you’d imagine there isn’t too many spots to fill or decisions to make at this stage.
Former Ireland captain Rory Best toured with the Lions under Gatland on two occasions, 2013 and 2017, and he reckons there is plenty of Irish players who are in the running to make the squad, outside of the likes of Tadhg Furlong, Robbie Henshaw, Conor Murray and Johnny Sexton who almost look certain to make the squad.
Iain Henderson, who toured with Lions in 2017, will be in action for Ulster in Challenge Cup this weekend and Best feels he’s definitely one player that has a strong case.
“I think certainly Iain Henderson,” Best told us.
“I would think Iain Henderson is in as strong a position as James Ryan. If you’re going purely on form I think he’s even in a better position. Beca use Hendy, Tadhg Beirne, and Robbie Henshaw were Ireland’s three best players in the Six Nations.
“The number of turnovers [Henderson] made, he’s been a Lion before… So I think that he has a really strong case.”
Another name that has been mentioned in recent weeks given his form is Munster winger, Keith Earls. The 33-year-old toured with the Lions back in 2009 when they last took on South Africa as a 21-year-old but has failed to make a squad since.
Best said he would “obviously” pick him given his talent but isn’t quite sure he’s the kind of player Gatland will go for against the Springboks.
“I think the problem is there are so many back-three players,” Best said.
“And up to the last game [of the Six Nations], it felt like Ireland probably weren’t expressing themselves enough and Earlsy is very much someone who will work so hard for the team.
“But I’m not necessarily sure that that’s something that Gats will overly reward as much as somebody like George North. He loves big impact players, which Earlsy isn’t. But if you want somebody to be organised, disciplined and work really, really hard – like obviously, I would bring him because he’s one of the best players of played with.”
The former Ireland captain also thinks someone like Andrew Porter could travel seeing as he has the potential to play at both loosehead and tighthead prop. He also thinks it might not be too late for Caelan Doris despite his injury problems.
“There’s also gonna be people like potentially Andrew Porter. Can he play both sides? Maybe it’s just a bit of a myth from outside because he played loosehead prop when he was under-20s that he can play both sides. Certainly, he has the potential to be capable, Robin McBryde knows him,” Best continued.
“Tadhg Beirne I think most definitely has to be [in the squad]. Even the way he’s playing with Munster, he’s carried his form through.
“I think Caelan Doris, he has to have a big, big game this weekend. He has to start another big game. Because I think that number eight… there’s Toby Faletau and then I’m not sure where you go after that because Billy Vunipola hasn’t been good and he’s probably living off his name a little bit.
“And he’s playing Championship rugby, not Champions Cup rugby. So there are opportunities for someone like Caelan Doris.”
Ronan Kelleher is is another player that has been in excellent form in recent weeks and Best reckons his fellow hooker is definitely in with a shot.
“I think he has a really, really good chance and I think this weekend will be big for him,” Best added.
“I thought he was great last time out against Exeter. He has been really good. He delivers in a lot of areas that Warren Gatland loves. He’s big, he’s physical, he carries really, really well and I think if he can have a strong showing this weekend and deliver in the areas that he’s really good at, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him on there.”
Former Ireland rugby captain Rory Best has teamed up with Specsavers to support its Healthy Hearing campaign, launched in celebration of important PRSI changes.
To mark the new benefits, which see thousands of people now qualify for free hearing aids at Specsavers, the popular opticians and audiologists has pledged to test and screen a quarter of a million people over the next two years.
An Irish role model, who at times struggles with his own hearing, Rory is keen to support Specsavers and highlight the importance of taking a proactive approach to hearing loss.