Joe Schmidt has leapt to the defence of veteran hooker Rory Best, branding criticism of his Ireland captain “unfair”. Head coach Schmidt has made 11 changes from last weekend’s record 57-15 loss to England at Twickenham for this Saturday’s World Cup warm-up clash against Wales in Cardiff.
Munster’s Niall Scannell starts at hooker with a big chance to seal his World Cup squad spot, with 37-year-old Ulster stalwart Best added to the bench at his own request. Best and prop Tadhg Furlong were due to be rested this weekend, but Schmidt admitted both asked for extra time to push themselves back up to top match sharpness.
Schmidt refused to give any guarantees that Best will captain Ireland at the World Cup on Tuesday, but has now defended his regular skipper in the wake of the eight-try England hiding. “The people who maybe really launched the criticism at him, some of it is unfair,” said Schmidt.
“The quality of what he provided, his support play and breakdown work, was still of a good standard. To put his performance in the nutshell of the lineout which is a lot of moving parts, there’s a little bit of undue criticism. At the same time, Rory is very self-critical. He is very conscious of wanting to improve himself.
“I know internally he sets an incredibly high benchmark for himself. He didn’t reach that benchmark and he will be very keen to re-establish that benchmark coming off the bench on Saturday.”
Asked if he had always planned to include Best and Furlong on the bench for the Principality Stadium clash, Schmidt said: “It wasn’t originally the plan, but the plan is always fluid. You get guys who get knocks, or guys who need more time. They were very keen to get back in and get back involved, they felt they were just a bit off last week.
“They felt that it would help them in their preparation if they got a little bit more time this week. We’re looking at them getting 25 to 30 minutes as the plan. That can springboard them into next week and beyond if they are selected. Rory felt he was underdone, and didn’t have the energy in his legs.”
– Press Association
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