Sports

Ireland honour centurion Best with win

Thursday, 1 December 2016

Ireland honour centurion Best with win thumbnailRory Best led Ireland to a famous win over Australia on his 100th appearance in a green jersey.

ACTON man Rory Best's 100th Test had a dream ending as injury-ravaged Ireland somehow managed to pull off a famous victory over Australia at Dublin's Aviva Stadium.

Badly disrupted by losing key backs during the game, the men in green saw their healthy lead overhauled but bounced back with a winning try to ensure the captain's celebrations of a magnificent milestone didn't fall flat.

The capacity crowd rose as one to give the 34-year-old hooker a wonderful ovation when he was withdrawn in the final few minutes of an epic encounter after yet again giving everything in his country's cause.

That must have been an unforgettable feeling but Best is a team man who is all about winning and beating Australia was a fitting way to mark his big night in becoming only the fifth Irishman in the centurion club after Brian O'Driscoll, Ronan O'Gara, Paul O'Connell and John Hayes.

Long since the most capped Irish hooker and Ulsterman in any position, Best became captain after the 2015 World Cup and has since led his country to first ever victories in South Africa and against New Zealand anywhere.

A beaming Best's interview with RTE after the final whistle was played over the public address system and he paid tribute to his supportive family while also thanking the fans for getting behind him and the team on a very special day.

Rory modestly deflected credit for his leading role in Ireland's outstanding achievement of beating rugby's three big southern hemisphere nations in the same calender year for the first time ever.

A regular visitor to the old Lansdowne Road as a boy, Best was delighted that his 100th cap came at home against one of rugby's super-powers after skippering Ireland to that wonderful away win against the Springboks and historic triumph over the All Blacks in Chicago.

It had looked like party-time for popular leader Best when Ireland led the Wallabies by a barely believable 17-0 late in the first half of Saturday evening's encounter.

But the Wallabies struck for a try right on the interval whistle to give them a lifeline against a reshuffled home back division which had already lost Rob Kearney and Best's fellow Ulsterman Andrew Trimble.

When domiciled Kiwi Jarred Payne failed to appear for the second half, Ireland were left with two rookie reserve half backs Kieran Marmion and Joey Carbery filling in on the wing and at full back respectively.

Having gone into Saturday's match without key midfield backs Johnny Sexton and Robbie Henshaw due to injury, Ireland could ill-afford further disruption behind the scrum and it was unbelievably bad luck losing three more men by the time the second half started.

Dominant Ireland had been well worth that 17 point lead as Best's Ulster team-mate Paddy Jackson kicked a penalty and coverted tries by another northerner Ian Henderson and precocious centre Gary Ringrose.

However Australia got their second touchdown six minutes into the second half and the conversion of their third try had them in front by the hour mark in spite of a second Jackson penalty.

Unsurprisingly the makeshift Ireland back division looked very vulnerable when Australia attacked but Best rallied the troops and Keith Earls got over in the corner to put the hosts ahead again with Jackson's conversion making it 27-24.

From there they held out for a valiant victory and coach Joe Schmidt afterwards hailed his team's 'immense character' on what he dubbed one of his proudest days in rugby.

For his part Best hailed the contribution of the team's young guns in stepping up on what he admitted had been a 'very emotional day'.

“These are such a great bunch of guys to captain and be around and everybody dug deep to get this win which says a lot for the depth we're developing now. It was particularly pleasing how the young guys fitted in and showed such stomach for the fight and didn't panic.

“Beating the three southern hemisphere sides is obviously a pretty big achievement for us especially considering all the talk of a big gap between the hemispheres after last autumn's World Cup.

“We've work to do and it's important we build on this and keep progressing come the Six Nations but before we go back to our provinces we'll enjoy this as a group and reflect with pride on what we've done over the past few weeks.

“At a personal level, today was obviously very very emotional for me. When I started I'd never dreamt I could get to 100 caps but to do it here at home on a day when we beat Australia is very special.

“To get that reception coming off was wonderful and just shows why Irish rugby is so special. Playing in that green jersey means so much to me and I'm delighted to have had my family here supporting me as always," he reflected.

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