Six Nations: Ireland must stop promising and start delivering
Rory Best and his Ireland side flew to Cardiff last night freighting some unwanted baggage, namely that of being a squad which readily admit it remains unfulfilled after failing to kick on from their Grand Slamtriumph of 2009.
After Declan Kidney and his side completed the first undefeated championship campaign of an Irish side since 1948, there still lingers a gnawing sense that subsequent seasons have failed to produce the rewards demanded of this most talented group.
And, as Best surveys the, as yet, barren landscape of this latest crusade — one that may include its most potent talisman, Brian O'Driscoll, for the last time — he reveals he and his team-mates are hungry to atone for a slew of missed opportunities since that 2009 success.
“Probably as a whole, yes,” he agrees unhesitatingly, when it is put to him that Ireland have largely failed to back up that singular achievement in 2009, in the wake of subsequent underwhelming Six Nations tilts and a flawed World Cup venture.
“We have shown in bits and pieces that we are still a top side but we still have to get that consistency in the big games, and take them one at a time.
“From winning the Grand Slam in 2009 we have flattered to deceive in a number of competitions and that is not the standard that we play and live by in our provinces.
“And it is not the standard in the last six or eight months that we have been talking about as a group. Even in training we have set out to be a lot harder on ourselves and we are training with a lot more intensity and we had a lot more clarity in that preparation week last week.
“There is no doubt that there is a bit of unfulfilled potential there but there have been a lot of new faces who have come in over the last six to 12 months.
Hopefully now we can start to show a bit of consistency.
“We're better prepared than this time 12 months ago. All 40 players last week bought into it, they all felt they had a fair crack at being there. So that gets standards in training up where it needs to be.”
Best was also at pains to refute suggestions that the rake of contract negotiations that regularly occur at this time of the year, particularly Jonathan Sexton's protracted move to France, will not impinge on the team.
However, he did sympathise with his own players union's idea that the timing of future negotiations perhaps be adjusted to ensure they do not interfere with the build-up to tournament play.
“That would be something that would be more along the lines of what's done in soccer,” he avers.
“From a player's point of view that would be great because you'd have that security 18 months out.
“I'm sure the IRFU would argue that 18 months is a long time to judge what somebody's form is going to be like. Rugby is a very physical game so there's a lot more longer term injuries.
“There's all of that unknown so I'm sure there would be a counter argument to it.
“From a player's point of view I think obviously the sooner it can be done the better.
“I think there's also a realism that sometimes it does take a wee bit longer than maybe it should.”
Best was himself involved in a similar scenario this time last year when he was mulling over a contract extension which did not prove to be as painless as had been expected.
“As far as I was concerned I wanted to stay a part of Ulster and stay within the IRFU and be looked after the way I was,” he relates.
“Until I changed my mind on that, I didn't see any reason. The IRFU were more than fair to me, it just took a wee bit longer to get across the line.
“I had no intention of leaving and unless you're fairly sure you want to leave I don't think there's any point trying to almost blackmail each other.
“Contract negotiations go well when both sides are fairly open and say what they want, as long as within reason everyone gets what they want and everyone's happy.
“I was happy to stay with Ulster. I wanted to stay and win things with Ulster and Ireland. That's certainly where I was and that helped the thing to go along.
“I don't think it is a distraction really. The only time we have really mentioned it is to slag someone off one way or the other and to be fair to the boys who are up for a contract have conducted themselves well.
“Some of the boys who signed lately, I'm sure some of the squad weren't even aware that they had been up at the end of the season. It hasn't even been mentioned.
“Even with the Jonny thing, Jonny said nothing about it and then all of a sudden we were leaving camp on Friday and it was announced by the time we arrived back in camp on the Sunday.
“Rugby is such a fast-moving world that it was almost old news. Everyone had the weekend to take it in. Credit to the players the way that they went about their business. It shows how professional they are and it hasn't been a distraction.”