Ireland captain Best wary of improved Springboks

Pirate IRWIN
Ireland's Rory Best was skipper of the British & Irish Lions team on their tour of New Zealand

Ireland captain Rory Best is expecting a real test of hs side's mettle on Saturday against a South Africa side that has improved vastly from the one they played last year.

The seasoned 35-year-old hooker, who was skipper of the British & Irish Lions team on the tour of New Zealand, captained the Irish to their first ever Test win in South Africa last year but the Springboks rallied to win the series 2-1.

Best, who was confirmed as national captain by Joe Schmidt in the close season and will lead the side out for the 20th time, believes the Springboks have an added dimension to their game to previous sides.

Despite that, recent results have been mixed, ranging from the 57-0 hammering by New Zealand in the Rugby Championship to then losing by only a point (25-24) to the All Blacks the next time they met.

"I think South Africa are a good team and have come a long way from the one we played in June last year," said Best at his eve-of-Test press conference on Friday.

"If you think of vintage South Africa teams and these big forwards getting them across the gainline and a big-kicking out-half.

"These guys have those forwards and an out-half that can kick but they have a lot more as well. The depth they play at and the offloads, that makes them a real handful.

"It'll be a really good test for our defence. So from that side of things, they've pulled together a lot of the perceived old strengths and put an extra dimension on it."

- 'Not many back doors' -

Best, who has played only around 80 minutes this season due to injury, is confident the Irish, despite missing several experienced players such as Jared Payne and Keith Earls, are primed to deal with the Springbok challenge.

"Ireland is certainly a team that is ready to perform," said Best.

"It's okay me sitting here saying that but we have a core leadership and those who are playing really well.

"We have guys who learned from their experience in the Lions and others who learnt about Test rugby in the summer tour (of Japan and the United States) and the way the squad performed in Japan (they won the series 2-0) with players missing was impressive.

"Japan are a handful and progressing upwards in the second tier."

Best, who will win his 105th cap on Saturday, would not go so far to project him carrying on as captain till the 2019 World Cup but added Schmidt had shown confidence in him by retaining him as captain till the end of the season.

"To be fair to Joe there not many back doors," said Best, praising his coach's straightforward approach to man-management.

"If he wanted to make a change he would have done.

"But it was nice to be asked again. I think when you're in that position and captaining the country you never like to assume anything, so it was good when Joe said: 'We'd like you to do it again for this season'.

"It gave me the confidence that he liked what I was doing, I was doing a good job."

Best said that one of the biggest challenges he faced in captaining the side "is to keep sticking to what you're doing".

"You feel you need to do something different. I suppose over the last couple of years, I've learned that and I feel a lot more comfortable in that role," he added.