“Full-metal-jacket” Test for Best

Irish openside flank Neil Best says he has no fear of the “monstrous” Bok forwards.

Best is a flanker in the mould of Schalk Burger and Richie McCaw, and constantly walks the tightrope of legality and foul play. He is fearless and aggressive in both the tight and loose exchanges and spurred on by the partisan Lansdowne Road crowd, is bound to be a major factor against the Springboks.

The Ulster fetcher has ousted former captain Simon Easterby following consistently impressive performances for the Irish province.

The Boks are likely to start with a back row combination of Juan Smith, Danie Rossouw and Pierre Spies. The trio are significantly bulkier than their Irish counterparts and could be devastating with ball in hand. However Best could also expose them at the breakdown as none of the triumvirate is a recognised breakdown specialist.

The Springboks will therefore look to dominate this facet of play by imposing themselves physically through rucking and counter-rucking.

But Best was adamant that he would make up in heart and technique, what he gave up in size in what Ireland coach Eddie O’Sullivan has billed as a “full-metal-jacket affair”.

“I think size is unimportant,” Best told the Irish Times. “I’ve watched the games. I’ve watched the players in my opposite position. We do our analysis quite thoroughly. I know that they (South Africans) are five maybe eight kilos heavier than I am. It’s not a weight competition,” said the 1.88m, 98kg player.

“We’re rugby players. Their size doesn’t cut the mustard with me,” he asserted. “As far as I’m concerned, guys can be bigger and stronger but it doesn’t necessarily make them better rugby players.

“I’m not worried about them being monstrous or physical because I knew they’d be big. I’m not surprised by you telling me that.”

Best said he had not expected to be in the run-on side and bordered on nonchalant
when speaking about achieving his sixth cap.

“I was surprised that I got the nod,” he says. “I knew I was in the 22 so the worst-case scenario was that I was going to sit on the bench. The best-case scenario was that I was starting, so I wasn’t really worried.

“Eddie picks the team. If he thinks I’ve played well then he picks me. That’s how it works. If I don’t play well I get dropped. This is not my jersey at all.”

O’Sullivan said the decision to include Best ahead of Easterby was based on purely on form.

“It’s always difficult,” said O’Sullivan. “It’s no secret that I’m a big fan of Simon Easterby and this was a very tough call.

“But Neil Best has played very well for Ulster and it was a toss of a coin between the two of them. Neil had a very good tour in the summer and he’s carried that form into the season.”

The 27-year-old believes his game has shown significant improvements since his debut against the All Blacks in November 2005, and he was determined to continue the upward curve.

“There’s no point getting to a certain level and staying there,” he says. “I want to progress – become better and better and better. I think I probably have got better in my decision-making, skills, hands, defensively in the lineout as well as in the attacking ones. I’m progressing I think.”