The Lions are yet to see Rory’s Best

A shock omission from Warren Gatland’s original 37-man squad, Rory Best has had a rollercoaster past few weeks. Firstly there was the initial disappointment of missing out for a second time with the Lions, followed by the relief of being called up to replace the suspended Dylan Hartley. He was then given the honour of captaining the Lions in Canberra, but now Best finds himself on receiving end of fierce criticism as the Lions tasted defeat for the first time down under against Jake White’s impeccably organised Brumbies.

By Best’s own admission the performance wasn’t up to scratch, and the Brumbies were ‘hungrier’ in taking the game to the Lions. And while it’s not often helpful to isolate one area of the game, on this occasion eight lost line-outs are a pretty good indication of where it all went wrong for the Lions in Canberra, and for that Best has already taken a large share of the responsibility for the misfiring set-piece.

“We definitely got nervy and simple little units miss-fired. At this level if you can’t secure ball you will always be under pressure,” he said. Perhaps his troubles in the set-piece highlight the main reason for Gatland not selecting Best in the first place.

The Ulster hooker had paid the price for Ireland’s disappointing Six Nations campaign and an indifferent performance for Ulster in their Heineken quarter-final played against Saracens at Twickenham, another big occasion on which Best had struggled with his darts to the detriment of Ulster’s chances of progression.
Those of us who watch Best week in week out at Ravenhill in the Pro 12 and Heineken Cup are well aware of his qualities. On current form his throwing admittedly makes him a risky inclusion should he be required in the tests, however at his best the former Ulster and Ireland captain would feature in most conversations about genuinely world class hookers. There aren’t too many about in truth.

Over the course of a season Best’s percentages throwing in would stand up against most Northern Hemisphere hookers. But it is his apparent tendency to let his standards drop in pressure situations at the moment that provides a real worry for Gatland, and presumably Joe Schmidt also. It is a trend which is traced back through the Six Nations. Only 55% of line-outs reached their intended target as Ireland slipped to their first ever championship loss to Italy, and there were similar problems against England, France and Scotland.

Of course, the hooker is often the scapegoat, but collectively the pack will take responsibility for their set-piece troubles against the Brumbies. To solely place blame on the hooker is to misunderstand the complexities of the modern line-out. Any number of things can go wrong in this aspect of the game, and we must also credit the opposition for their effective spoiling plays.

Tom Youngs looks odds on to grab a test jersey this weekend but even his throwing is questionable – although admittedly it has been the best of the three hookers thus far on tour. And Hibbard, for his part, had excelled during the Six Nations but has also found the going tough on tour at times. So with Best third in line, there is still the distinct possibility that he could yet feature in the tests should form, injury or suspension rule the current incumbents out at any stage. And should he be called upon, I’d back him to overcome his nerves in the pressure situations and play a pivotal role for the Lions as he has done on countless occasions for province and country.

By David Blair (@viscount_dave)

14 thoughts on “The Lions are yet to see Rory’s Best

  1. Youre not going to see him anywhere near a test match, if Hibbard and Youngs (in that order) get injured I would send for Ken Owens who probably only failed to make the trip because Rowntree has had too much influence on the pack.

    1. Rob Webber was excellent in Argentina, probably England’s best player on the tour. With Webber fully match fit and just thrown 13/0 in the second test he would have to be in contention (he’s a big unit as well).

      Gatland is (or maybe that should be was) a Hartley fan (ever since attempting the mind games on him before the 2011 6N game). Don’t think his original inclusion was down to Rowntree’s influence.

      1. Owens is the same build, has a lot more experience, has played against the Blacks, Aus and England, is a top scrummager and is very good at the breakdown as the game opens up and plays like an extra openside. See the turnovers in the last England game.

        1. webber made a handful of starts in the backrow for Wasps when he used to play there. that should give a good indication about his mobility and breakdown work.

          in all honesty, if there was an injury i dont think i would go for either of these two.

          had Ross Ford not been injured i would consider him (former lion so most experienced of all), but guys like Strauss and Cronin bring real dynamism and have impressed me a huge amount.

  2. Being able to throw it in straight is only down to one man, when it goes in straight but doesn’t find the target it’s not necessarily the hooker.

    In top form you’ve got the dynamism of Youngs, physicality of Hibbard and throwing of Hartley all rolled into one, but he’s been light years from his best. It would take some fortitude to come on and throw in a test match on the back of that performance, first things first I hope he gets some redemption next Tues.

  3. Admittedly Best has been poor on this tour and in general in big matches, but as David said I watch him week in week out at Ravers and he plays great so I don ‘t think people should be doubting his ability as a Hooker. If he got his lineout throwing sorted he’d be a real force, he’s great at the breakdown, makes his tackles and provides leadership, but this one big issue in his throwing has held him back as being a genuinely world class hooker for years. For the tests I’d like to see Youngs but if we play Youngs I think we need Corbisiero, If Gatland goes for Hibbard then I’d prefer to see Mako at loosehead.

    1. I would like to see Hibbard and Corbs start, give their scrum some real pressure and let 1/2p kick the points. I would start with all the other power players (Lydiate & Faletau) because its going to be cold and wet and a real arm wrestle. Mako to come on at 55-60 with Croft or Tipuric.

  4. Unfortunately for Best the modern game needs the hooker to be able to throw in the ball at lineouts which he has been appalling not just on this tour but during the International season. Until he comes up trumps he should not be picked for Ireland never mind the Lions despite being impressive in the loose.

    1. I’d like to see Strauss for Ireland, he’s always impressed me for Leinster and when he has played for Ireland.

  5. I’m hugely disappointed for Rory Best. He was superb for Ireland in the six nations and outside of the lineout he looked great for the Lions the other day. He’s a big hard worker with a lot of passion, the lineout just went awry.

    That said, I don’t think all of the lineouts were necessarily his fault. The hooker waits for movement from the jumpers to trigger his throw and they just didn’t give him a target, though it doesn’t excuse the not-straights.

    1. as you said, it doesnt excuse the not-straights, of which there were a few.

      another issue was that his throws were not high enough.

      a couple of the ones that Kimlin picked off were meant for Gray, but they were coming in around head-height (or just above) for richie. a big challenge for a hooker is to get the ball high enough to go over the defenders, Best had the added opportunity that Gray is HUGE, but he clearly isnt used to it, and wasnt putting enough height on. Kimlin can get a hand to it, and thats it, ball lost. Best SHOULD have been getting it higher to avoid the problems.

      the height of the ball becomes less important when you go to the front, because the jumpers try to get in front of the defender, so its easier to rocket it in. the further back you go, the more lofted the throw has to be. its harder to get in front of the defending jumper, so you often have to get up before/higher than them. when the hooker isnt throwing the ball to the outstretched jumper, it makes it easier as a defender to steal, because it makes the extra time/height less important.

      i get the idea that hookers wait for certain movements and what not, but the lineout has been pretty good with Youngs, and not too bad with Hibbard either. it does seem that Best is the common denominator when it comes to the implosion of the lineout.

      i totally get that a hooker isnt always to blame, but you would be amazed how much the change of thrower can influence a “misfiring lineout”.

      1. I agree and it was a bit unfair on him and probably cost Hibbard his start (which is a mistake along with Lydiate on the bench and Faletau in the stand) I heard on commentary that The Lions team for the Brumbies played two number fours and it was half their fault. I however think that after ten minutes if one of the opposition jumpers is having a great game you should have enough sense to throw it to someone other than the guy hes marking.

  6. It’s tough. 2 years ago, even last year, I couldn’t see anyone else in the 2 shirt.

    Now? I think I’d prefer 4 guys to Best. It’s a tough school, but his initial non selection has been justified.

  7. Best has had bad darts on this tour. However not too many more than the others; the reasons it has been highlights are because it was the first loss and because Stuart Barnes on Sky had a bee in his bonnet – even calling it not straight when the touch-judge and ref were ok with it. It’s like he was itching for Best to fail – must be a Hartley fan. In fact, in earlier games Barnes had a go at blaming Best a number of times when the throw was spot on and the jumpers were tripping over themselves. That’s the real worry for me come the tests – the hooker can be spot on but the jumpers misfire.

    But simply, his darts weren’t good enough for the test team. In saying that you also have to concede that this applies also to Hibbard and Cole is pretty much unproven. Anyone know his stats?

    I predict two things: no-one else will be called up for the hooker spot and Best will play a blinder against the Rebels.

Comments are closed.