Brian O’Driscoll believes it is “crazy” that Rory Best is not already heralded as one of Ireland’s great captains.
Ulster stalwart Best has skippered Ireland since 2016, steering Joe Schmidt’s side to the 2018 Six Nations Grand Slam, the maiden two victories over New Zealand – and now to the top of the world rankings for the first time.
Evergreen hooker Best came in for fierce criticism in the wake of Ireland’s record 57-15 loss to England at Twickenham on Saturday, August 24.
Ireland hit back with home and away wins over Wales to top the world rankings, leaving boss Schmidt and captain Best in revived spirits ahead of Sunday’s crucial World Cup Pool A clash with Scotland in Yokohama.
O’Driscoll skippered Ireland from 2003 until 2012 but, despite all his personal successes, can only count the 2009 Grand Slam as a major captaincy coup.
And Ireland’s most-capped player now insists it is time for 37-year-old Best to receive far greater adulation.
“Rory is an absolute champion player, and a stalwart of this team,” O’Driscoll told the PA news agency.
“Whatever he brings as a player he brings huge assets as a leader, and a calm head in stressful environments.
“I’m sure we’ll see more big performances before he hangs up his boots – hopefully in November and not October.
“The fact that he’s not already being revered as one of Ireland’s great leaders is crazy. And do you know what? He doesn’t have to be the best player on the pitch.
“He can even be the 15th best starting player, he just needs to be the best hooker.
“And he needs to focus on getting his darts right, scrummaging well and being destructive and annoying in the loose as we know he’s been over the last 10 years.
“His leadership will be massively important to the progress of this team.”
Ireland’s squeaky clean discipline has always underscored their success under taskmaster Kiwi boss Schmidt.
But while talismanic leaders Johnny Sexton and Peter O’Mahony can be prone to toeing the line of losing their temper, Best is able to keep his cool even amid the most frustrating situations.
O’Driscoll believes that superlative element of his Test arena stewardship has been entirely overlooked, insisting that whatever happens at the World Cup Best should already be regarded in the pantheon of great Irish captains.
“I’ve been incredibly impressed with his diplomacy skills,” said O’Driscoll.
“Even when he’s felt he’s been on the receiving end of a bad refereeing decision, it’s the look he gives, more than throwing his toys out of the cot, that’s what referees want.
“They know he’s annoyed, they know he thinks they’ve got it wrong, but they accept the respect part that he doesn’t berate them or have a go at them.
“That’s why he’s really influential to this team, and that’s why Ireland have had such an incredible disciplinary record, because he talks to referees, respects what they are saying and tries to feed in information to them, and steps away when he’s told to.
“And I think that level of captaincy has been completely underestimated.”