Rugby Dark clouds gather as Ireland captain Rory Best runs out of road

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Not dark yet, but it’s getting there. Debate surrounding the Ireland captaincy has been ignited by Saturday’s 57-15 humiliation at Twickenham. If not for the obvious reasons – Rory Best’s eight lineouts are listed below – then human physiology.

Athletes grow old before our eyes. Most players run out of steam around 34, 35-years-old with special cases kept on while the decline edges towards freefall. Best, Ireland’s most decorated leader, has been patched up and sent back into the arena despite turning 37 this month. He responded with a performance perilously close to his worst ever in a green jersey.

Paul O’Connell was playing some of the best rugby of his life when the 35-year-old led Ireland into the 2015 World Cup. There was no choice but to hope O’Connell’s ageing ligaments wouldn’t snap off the bone.

That’s not the case in 2019. Certainly not after Manu Tuilagi’s devastating runs came mainly off the platform gifted by Ireland’s set piece.

Rugby Sean Cronin looks on after Peter O’Mahony can’t take his throw at Twickenham. photograph: James Crombie/Inpho
Sean Cronin looks on after Peter O’Mahony can’t take his throw at Twickenham. photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

Best’s leadership becomes a liability if he continues to erode Ireland’s foundation stone for scoring points: the lineout.

The Armagh man recently explained why he doesn’t sing Ireland’s Call before games. As a teenager playing for Ireland schools, Best belted it out and his heart rate was still racing when it came the first lineout, which he flung well over the jumper’s finger tips.

Best is dead on; his last ever first throw at Twickenham was plucked from the sky by a fully stretched Iain Henderson. Maro Itoje, in O’Connell peak mode, devoured that Irish maul but we had ourselves a game.

Seven floated balloons later we had ourselves a rout.

“A combination of a couple of throws not right, a couple of calls and a couple of movements a bit slow,” was how Best described the mess that was five of his eight lineouts.

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