Belfast Telegraph

Friday 29 August 2014

Ireland Rugby: Rory Best can see traits of grand slam heroes in Joe Schmidt's current crop

Doubling up: Rory Best and Paul O'Connell work together to stop Richard Hibbard on Saturday

Rory Best was not getting carried away following Ireland's 26-3 demolition of Wales in Dublin. But at the end of what was his 72nd appearance in a green jersey, the 31-year-old agreed that Ireland are shaping up under Joe Schmidt.

Having been a member of the 2009 Grand Slam squad, Best has a yardstick against which to measure the current group. Asked if the men of 2014 have begun to display some of the characteristics which are the hallmarks of a successful squad, his reply, though measured, was upbeat.

"I think it has. It's a close-knit group, we all get on very well and the most important thing is that we all work very, very hard," said Best, who looked fresh enough to have been able to put in another 73-minute shift if required.

"I think probably one of the most pleasing things over the last two games has been the impact of the bench. In the past Ireland have emptied the bench and the performance drops a wee bit or gets a bit disjointed.

"But the last two weeks the bench has been emptied and every one has picked up the baton and run with it and really brought an extra bit of physicality and brought fresh legs to it.

"When you can get that within a squad it's very, very encouraging although, again, we are keeping our feet on the ground. It is only two wins out of five and we have a massive game in two weeks' time."

The 'massive game' to which he referred will see Ireland facing England at Twickenham and with Schmidt's side going for the Triple Crown, the incentive to beat the old enemy in their own backyard will be even greater than usual.

Ireland's victory over Wales underlined just how quickly Schmidt has managed to impose himself on his team. The players followed his game-plan and they got their rewards, much to Best's satisfaction.

"The performance was very good and the result obviously followed," he said.

"You could maybe say the scoreline flattered us a little bit, but we dominated large parts of that game.

"We talked all week – with their very, very dangerous back row they would have to start at the breakdown. They destroyed Italy at times in the breakdown, especially (Taulupe) Faletau and (Sam) Warburton.

"We knew we needed to target them, we knew we had to get the ball. To take the game to Wales you need to have the ball. We knew we needed to be able to protect it and that would get rid of the threats.

"It was a bit of a physical statement for us to be able to go out and dominate that breakdown and really give the backs some good ball.

Asked about the intensity Ireland had shown from the off, Best said: "I suppose that's something else we talked about – to make sure we made a physical statement early on, to try to see it in their eyes that after 10 minutes they knew we meant business.

"I think last year we obviously shocked them in the first half with the way we played, but then we died. That was a big thing for us – it wasn't just about 10 minutes, it was about each 10-minute block and making sure that we brought that physicality and intensity."

Although he felt Ireland's scrummaging "was a little bit disappointing, a wee bit messy at times", he highlighted the fact that the home pack managed to deliver.

"I think maybe the key thing for us, (was that) at crucial times when we needed to lock down a scrum to relieve a bit of pressure or to put a bit of pressure on them, we were able to do that. It shows we're capable."

As for some of the victors' desires to make personal post-Lions points to Warren Gatland, Best said: "I think it was obviously a disappointing tour from an Irish point of view.

"But I think the big thing was that this was about team performance; we didn't speak about individual battlers, we spoke about making sure that everyone plays their part in a team performance."

"There's probably no greater example than the way Brian O'Driscoll played. He didn't go out of his way to make a point, he just did what he always does and that's play unbelievably well to make sure that we get a performance and get the result.

"That's what we're about – we're about getting performances and results."

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