Best full of hope for future tests
Irish skipper hails rising stars but admits frustration at failing to seal an historic series win in South Africa
Ireland captain Rory Best blamed a lack of cutting edge for his side's failure to clinch their series with South Africa while head coach Joe Schmidt refused to dwell on controversial refereeing decisions following Saturday's 19-13 loss in Port Elizabeth.
Having made history in Cape Town with a first Test win on Springboks soil, Best bemoaned the fine margins of Test rugby that saw Ireland drop winnable games in Johannesburg - after they led by 16 points - and again on Saturday when, despite having plenty of chances, they failed to find the crucial second try that could have swung the balance and the series in their favour.
"It's been a great series and a really tough one in which we knew we had to defend really well to win," said the Ulster hooker. "The fact there has only been six points between the sides in every game speaks volumes about how tight the games have been.
"It came down to small margins but that's Test rugby and our set-piece was not what we would have liked. We knew they would come after us in the scrum after last week and they didn't disappoint.
"It's exactly what we thought it would be. Nothing was ever given easily, we knew we had to defend really well. They're a top side; we came here to win a series, we've fallen short twice.
"Our boys have fought valiantly and we've put everything in. Unfortunately in the last two Tests, the Springboks have just been a little bit more clinical. We came here to win but we have fallen short."
While Ireland will no doubt feel the series was there for the taking, a first ever win on South African soil three weeks ago will live long in the memory and Best believes the tour augurs well moving towards an autumn slate that includes two meetings with the All Blacks.
"Hopefully the future for Irish rugby is bright with the talent we have here, including some great young players, as well as the talent we have at home," he added.
"A lot of people wrote us off before we came here and the age profile of the squad is such that we have some guys with not a lot of experience, but they are very exciting and talented and now have a taste for big games like this."
It could have been so different, however, had referee Glen Jackson shown an early red card to South African full-back Willie Le Roux during Saturday's reverse in the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium.
An aerial clash with Tiernan O'Halloran looked dangerous, especially in light of Ireland's CJ Stander's dismissal in the first Test, but a yellow was deemed sufficient punishment.
Yesterday, a disciplinary panel handed Le Roux a one-week ban for the incident.
Schmidt said: "I don't make comments on those incidents, other people do. We're still disappointed with CJ's red. But we use official channels to comment. The refs do an incredibly difficult job and by and large do it well."
The Kiwi could not hide his frustration at his side's failure to make the most of their possession. "I'm massively disappointed," he said. "It's 12 years since we've been here and we had the chance last week but were pick-pocketed and we put so much energy in after a 52-week season.
"When you don't get what you're looking for you're going to be disappointed. We showed a bit of inexperience a few times. It is something to learn from. I'm not taking anything away from South Africa, but you sometimes don't feel like you get what you deserve.
"It's not a lost cause. Three six-point results and two of them didn't go our way. If you'd offered me one win and a couple of close results before, I probably would have taken it because there's a bit of history but when you get as close as we did, it's disappointing."