YOKOHAMA, 23 Sep - When Ireland were defeated by England four weeks ago, there were mutterings from fans and the media that 37-year-old captain Rory Best was a fading force and no longer his country's best hooker.
Best answered that scepticism in Yokohama on Sunday with a huge performance as Ireland swept Scotland aside. The men he leads were quick to sing his praises.
"I thought he had an absolutely sterling performance and he silenced all of his critics out there,” said Best’s Ulster team-mate Iain Henderson.
In a TV interview alongside Best, pictured, try-scoring prop Tadhg Furlong jokingly saluted the longevity of 'Old Man Best' and praised his 80-minute performance against the Scots, "which is a testament to him at 55 years of age".
The smiling Furlong told his skipper: "You officially end this game as Ireland's oldest-ever Rugby World Cup member - go and get your slippers on."
Humour was in short supply when Ireland’s lineout crumbled during a 57-15 defeat by England in their second World Cup warm-up at Twickenham in August. Best was only one of many Ireland players who performed poorly that day, yet he was singled out for blame.
For a week, the debate raged. Would head coach Joe Schmidt jettison the ageing Best as first-choice hooker and go with the younger Niall Scannell or Sean Cronin?
Schmidt quickly made it clear he would be standing by his man, saying: "If there is external noise of that nature then there is no internal noise.
The following Saturday, in Cardiff, Best came off the bench and tackled all around him. He played as if not only his captaincy but his place on the plane to Japan were under threat.
In Yokohama, Ireland won all 12 lineouts on his throw and he was part of a scrum that was 10 for 10 on Ireland’s put-in. There was far more to Best’s performance, though, than excellence at the set-piece.
He made five carries, nine tackles, completed eight passes and also managed an offload. Then there was the lineout try Best was on the end of as Ireland’s pack returned to their best form since the victory over New Zealand in November 2018.
The modest, quietly spoken Best was never going to answer his doubters with anything other than measured words. He acknowledged that the criticism was understandable after a lacklustre Six Nations campaign and that Twickenham mauling.
Speaking after Ireland's bonus-point 27-3 victory, in a stadium where Ireland fans far outnumbered Scotland’s, he said: "The biggest frustration was we knew we had a lot more to give and we just weren't getting it for whatever reason.
"We were happy with our preparation and a lot of those games and just didn't execute as well. Maybe we didn't put enough pressure on ourselves to be in the position we needed to be to execute the plan we were given.
"There's always going to be critics and the constructive criticism we get from people like Joe (Schmidt) and the rest of the coaches is probably tougher than anything. That's how you learn and get better."
Best's ambition to keep improving in his 38th year is one of the reasons Schmidt has placed his trust in the captain. On Sunday, he was richly rewarded for that faith.