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We must use win over All Blacks as launch pad to Six Nations glory: Best

By Ruaidhri O'Connor

Rory Best has warned his Ireland team-mates that they must at least match and probably better their November performances if they are to succeed at this year's Six Nations.

The Ireland captain said his team would continue to play with the same attacking intent they showed in beating New Zealand, South Africa and Australia but said those victories are consigned to history and will count for nothing when the action gets underway away to Scotland on Saturday week.

Best led Ireland to third place in last year's Championship and expectation is high that they can move up the rankings and at least challenge for the trophy they won in 2014 and 2015 once again.

"There's an element of confidence now in the squad and that's come off the back of a good tour in South Africa, you know, getting that result there. I think we were disappointed not to win one more of the other two, or at least one of the other two," the Ulsterman said.

"And then a few good performances in November but probably as much as anything you park November and you try as a player to take that form into your clubs and I think we've seen that with three of the provinces.

"So with that, whenever the provinces are going well it naturally has a knock-on effect to camp.

"At the same time we're under no illusions that everything that happened in 2016 has gone and while we can use that to improve and go forward, if we think that because we beat New Zealand in Chicago that gives us a right to win at Murrayfield... I think we've gone well beyond that as an Irish squad.

"We understand that we need to use results like that to push us forward to be better again at Murrayfield, because I think this Six Nations, the way it is at the minute with the way Scotland are going, and the way Glasgow and Edinburgh are going in Europe, it's going to take a performance equal or better to anything we produced in November."

The win over New Zealand in particular has increased expectation in Ireland, but Best believes the team can handle it.

"Of course straight away there's a little bit more expectation on you but the big thing for us is that the biggest expectation probably comes from ourselves," he said.

"We have a lot of competitive players, a lot of players who are used to performing and used to winning games, and that's where the main driver comes from.

"Ultimately there comes a point when the competitive players really stand above and that's the sort of position we've been in for the last number of years, and that's where we can to continue to be."

Meanwhile, Dylan Hartley feared he had jeopardised his England captaincy after receiving a third red card of his career that he views as a reality check.

The Northampton player was sent off for striking Sean O'Brien during a Champions Cup defeat by Leinster on December 3, an offence that resulted in a six-week ban that only ended on Monday.

By the time France visit Twickenham for the Six Nations opener on Saturday week, the 30-year-old will not have played for over two months and his disciplinary record now consists of 60 weeks' worth of bans.

When asked if he felt he had compromised his captaincy, Hartley said: "Of course. There is a responsibility. I worry when I am in the environment. I am aware every week if you don't perform then your place is up for grabs. It is never a given.

"I always reflect and do that most days. Being part of this group is a privilege. We want to be the best team in the world and to be a part of that and feel it is going somewhere is a privilege. I have had a good reality check."

Belfast Telegraph

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