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Under-fire Best vows to silence critics and deliver against Scots

By Ruaidhri O'Connor

You can manage the message, but controlling what is going on in players' heads is harder to do. The words Grand and Slam were banned from the public exchanges in the build-up to last weekend's game in Cardiff, but Rory Best concedes that internally the squad were dreaming big.

That's what has made this week such a difficult one for a squad who knew history beckoned, but couldn't deliver their best on the big day.

A week later, their title is on the line in Edinburgh and back-to-back titles for the first time since 1949 are not to be sniffed at, but they have had to process their defeat and what it meant before focusing on Scotland.

"It's difficult when you set your standards high and you feel that you're capable of Grand Slamming, you put yourself in a position to do it and then not do it... but I think you have just got to rely on the fact that people being despondent and annoyed about it is a good thing," he says. "We are all competitive and we all want to win so we have to rectify the fact that we put in a poor performance last week.

"But, the flip-side of that is that you've got to shake yourself down and prepare now for Scotland, I think we've been able to do that."

Calling it a grieving process is probably too much, but the challenge for Joe Schmidt this week has been to gently lift his squad from a place of despondence in order to perform this afternoon.

"Joe was very clear on his message ahead of the day off on Wednesday - take 24 hours and get away from rugby and come in Wednesday night for the meetings and bits and pieces fresh and focused 100 per cent on Scotland," Best explains.

"On the Saturday night after the game, we said: 'Look, we'll look back at Wales but we can't touch or affect that now. We can only affect this weekend and that's what we've been doing."

It is another shot at history and, Best reveals, a target the squad set in the aftermath of last season's Championship victory in Paris last season.

"It's something we talked about after winning the one last year, that this team is capable of backing it up," he recalls. "In many ways it would be harder to back it up, because Wales and Scotland are very hard places to go. We've shown that Wales is a tough place to go and have to make sure that we're better to go to Scotland and win.

"With the added pressure of being champions and trying to retain it, everything that goes with that. It would be a massive achievement to back it up.

"It would give you a bit of momentum going into the World Cup, but we have to make sure we're better against Scotland than we were last week."

Best says the coach has kept things on an even keel this week, not hammering the players too much for their performance at the Millennium Stadium while trying to coax one last performance out of them today.

One of the greatest disappointments from Cardiff was the fact that Wales managed to outperform Ireland in areas of traditional strength, something that must be difficult to take.

Best suggests that the enormoty of the occasion and desire to put in a performance to mark Paul O'Connell's 100th cap and Johnny Sexton and Cian Healy's 50th may have played a part.

"We had a flat start, from a player's point of view we really wanted to produce a big performance for Paulie, Johnny and Cian when he came on," he reveals.

"That, as well as the fact that we were leading into a big two games for us. We were a wee bit off, while Wales were on the money. They turned 50-50s we normally turn to 60-40s, but they flipped them.

"The same with the lineout, they were just a split second faster than they had been 12 months previous when we were 100pc. They were a split second quicker than England had been at the Aviva when we were close to 100pc, so they're the small margins.

"You give a team that need momentum a bit of momentum and it's hard to fight it back. Credit to the way we stuck at it to fight it back, the bodies coming off the bench did an incredible job to get us back into a position where we could have won the game."

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