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Ulster's Rory Best relieved to banish errors and clinch maiden triumph as Ireland skipper

By Jonathan Bradley

Fulfilling the range of post-match responsibilities that now fall on his shoulders as captain of Ireland, Rory Best was just pleased to finally be carrying out the duties having secured a win, against Italy on Saturday.

Since following on from Paul O'Connell after the legendary lock's post-World Cup retirement, a mixture of injuries, scheduling and poor execution ensured that the Ulsterman's permanent reign as national skipper began with a three-game winless run but, with the Azzurri the most accommodating of visitors, that came to an end with the weekend's nine-try demolition job.

"It's been a tough championship," the hooker noted after triumphing in his 50th Six Nations game. "It was nice to get the win and not to be standing here trying to justify what we're doing.

"Like there has been throughout the championship, there's been aspects of that performance that we're pleased with and there's aspects we know can be a lot better going forward.

"It's just nice to be in a changing room where boys are enjoying themselves.

"It's something that we've talked about; that this is a special championship to play in, but actually something that a lot of the boys hadn't experienced yet is that it's an unbelievable championship to get a win in.

"To get that and to score 58 points, we've got to be pleased."

While Wales and France both scored tries off scrums to deny Ireland victory in the opening two rounds, it was the lineout that malfunctioned when Joe Schmidt's men were beaten by England at Twickenham in their last outing.

Both set-pieces were back on song on Saturday, Ireland claiming all eight of Best's darts from touch while also snaffling Italian ball on two occasions, and enjoying a 100 per cent success rate in the scrum.

The improvement from the pack, as well as increased composure in opposition territory, pleased the captain.

"Just controlling the ball in the opposition 22," he replied when asked where the side had improved. "We got a good bit of momentum with our pick and goes.

"The lineout and scrum in various games in the championship... against Wales and France scrums ultimately cost us the game.

"Against England we turned the lineout over near their line.

"From that side of things, it was nice to get that watertight again which has been a big rock for us over the last few years."

On the issue of the boost this win could provide, he added: "When you score tries and score points it does lift the confidence.

"When you look at the way we started games, I don't think confidence was a massive issue outside of not getting the wins we'd have wanted. We've been prepared, we've been ready to go so far.

"There's an element of new guys coming in, when you're on the outside, playing provincial rugby and even European rugby, you think it's just another step to international and I think some have found it's a big step.

"It's a big step to playing international rugby and then it's a big step to winning international rugby."

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