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Rory Best: It was my duty as Ireland captain to stand up for team-mates

By Jonathan Bradley

Proud Ireland captain Rory Best revealed he felt the need to protect his team-mates during their massively physical win over England on Saturday.

Joe Schmidt's men ended English hopes of a second consecutive Grand Slam and world record 19th straight victory with a 13-9 win in Dublin with Johnny Sexton guiding the side to victory despite shipping some heavy hits.

Best was seen deep in conversation with referee Jerome Garces throughout, repeatedly asking why England's high tackles were not being penalised.

At one point he was heard telling the Frenchman he'd "get it in the neck from Joe (Schmidt)" if he didn't plead his case in asking for more protection to be given to the Ireland number 10.

"I don't think it was anything other than the French trying to put pressure on Johnny but we have to look after our players, especially a key player like Johnny.

"He kept saying the TMO would keep an eye on it but, I suppose, he was saying that his job, his assistants' job, and the TMO's job, is to look after the players.

"All I said to him was that it's my job too as captain to make sure our players are looked after.

"I knew if I didn't put a bit of pressure on to look after them then I'd be getting it from Joe."

Sexton started the championship on the sidelines thanks to a calf injury, with Ulster's Paddy Jackson performing well in the first two games, but he returned against France and survived the full 80 minutes on Saturday despite the big collisions.

While every out-half finds themselves targeted, Sexton seems to get it more than most - the ref mike picked up English players yelling "Sexton, Sexton" when it seemed the ball was set to come the Leinsterman's way - and Best was again impressed at the 31-year-old's "warrior" spirit.

"He's a competitor," said the skipper. "The best thing you can say is that I definitely prefer playing with him for Ireland than against him when he's at Leinster. He's a nightmare to play against.

"He just has a will to win. He's a great guy to have. As much as anything, you see on the pitch that edge that you need to win tight games and get over the line but off the pitch Johnny is a really great guy.

"Jacko is certainly learning from him in the way he is around the team and they're the kind of leaders you want, real warriors on the pitch but real humble, good guys off it."

After a win that saw his side finish second in the final table, as well as secure their position of fourth in the rankings ahead of May's World Cup draw, Best admitted that the lesson from the championship was again the need for consistency.

"That win was a bit more like us," he said. "A bit more like the form we showed in the autumn. That's the level you have to get to win in Test match rugby.

"When you look at how tight that was, 13-9, and we gave everything out there and that's the level we have to aspire to every week.

"The first 30 minutes (against Scotland) wasn't us. Then probably just the Wales game, it was just those fine margins that we talked about last week.

"They're the stuff we pride ourselves on winning and when we win games, we win more of those moments than we lose.

"We can perform well. The frustrating thing is that we didn't do it consistently enough throughout the championship."

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