Rory Best eager to drive forward and make some history in South Africa
After finishing the Six Nations with two wins, Ireland skipper Rory Best wants to create history this summer. Having once again fallen at the familiar hurdle of the quarter-finals in the 2015 World Cup, Joe Schmidt's men failed to pick up a victory in the opening three contests of the championship - drawing with Wales and losing to France and England - but bounced back to dispatch Italy last weekend and, on Saturday, Scotland.
In less than 12 weeks' time, the international squad will reconvene for a three-Test tour against the Springboks looking to secure their first ever win on South African soil.
With the momentum of two wins, a host of injured stars back on board and a recognised defence coach in Andy Farrell on the staff, Best - who won his 50th consecutive Six Nations cap against the Scots - believes an inaugural away victory over a side who hope to name a new coach next month is a realistic target.
With a host of inter-provincials in the coming weeks, and all four provinces battling for PRO12 play-off spots, the Ulsterman did, however, acknowledge that the summer still seems some way off.
"There's a fair bit of rugby to be played yet," he said.
"We'll look forward to knocking lumps out of each other over the next few months but we've now won two games in a row and we can go to South Africa and try to make a little bit of history over there.
"It's been a really enjoyable Six Nations and we'll now just wait and see how the old body holds up."
While the opening-round draw with Wales was hardly a terrible result, albeit coming at home, losses to an especially poor France team and then England had put defending champions Ireland under considerable pressure with Best pleased with how the side responded in the concluding two games.
Nine tries against Italy and four against Scotland have improved the mood considerably and the captain admitted it was important to finish the series strongly.
"For us it was about making sure we finished the tournament well and we've worked hard but we didn't make our own luck at the start of it and didn't do certain things well enough," he admitted.
"But we finished well and it's nice to finish with two wins and the most pleasing thing when we were under pressure after the England game was that we stepped up and performed well in two games."
The first Six Nations under his captaincy, the 33-year-old hooker felt he was learning on the job but thanked the players and coaches for making the task of replacing the legendary figure of Paul O'Connell easier.
"Captaincy has been a massive honour and there's been a bit of learning," he reflected.
"At provincial level you can sometimes be the only voice but here we're surrounded by leaders.
"For me it's been enjoyable but also that leadership group have made it that way and everyone has really pulled their weight along with all of the coaches."