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Ireland can shoulder the high expectations, says Best

By Jonathan Bradley

Published 23/06/2015

Glittering prize: The Webb Ellis Cup with pupils from Belfast’s Downey House School
Glittering prize: The Webb Ellis Cup with pupils from Belfast’s Downey House School

Former Ireland international Simon Best believes Joe Schmidt's side will not repeat the mistakes of previous squads when the World Cup begins in September.

Best was part of the 2007 team who, like the current side, were ranked third in the world going into the tournament but went on to perform dismally in France.

Unconvincing wins over lowly Namibia and Georgia were followed by losses to France and Argentina as Eddie O'Sullivan's men crashed out in the pool stage.

Best, however, feels that the current crop are better equipped to deal with the weight of expectation.

"It's vital that the hype doesn't affect the team but it's hard to avoid," said the 23-times capped prop while accompanying the Webb Ellis trophy to his home club of Banbridge.

"In 2007 we tried to embrace it and thought, 'why shouldn't we be among the favourites'?

"It's not a very Irish mentality to have, and obviously it didn't work for us, but I think this group probably has that bit more experience.

"Paul O'Connell, having been there in 2007, will be preaching to them all the time, and I think the professionalism which is there in the squad now will be one of their biggest assets.

"The legacy of 2007 if you like will still be very fresh and, even if the public can't help but get carried away, they'll certainly be looking to avoid a repeat of that."

Best, who has bittersweet memories of the World Cup having been forced to retire from the game due to an irregular heart rhythm discovered at the tournament eight years ago, has experience of making final squads from both an established position and as something of a bolter, so can appreciate the nerves of players awaiting Schmidt's call.

"With the way the season falls, I suppose a lot of the guys are away on holiday to try and take a break from it all but when the World Cup is around the corner that can be pretty hard to do," said Best. "I've seen it from both sides.

"My first World Cup in 2003 was sort of out of the blue after I only got my first cap a few months beforehand.

"Four years later, I was a settled part of the side and you're not so much expecting it, but you'd be very disappointed to miss out.

"The excitement will be building now no doubt, especially with it just being across the water in England. There's a lot of players who obviously want to be a part of it."

Best, whose brother Rory is sure to be involved in the squad as Ireland's first-choice hooker, thinks the much improved depth developed in recent years is complicating things.

Options at prop were often said to be scarce, especially at Best's old position of tight-head where Mike Ross has been relied upon so heavily, but the former Ulster captain believes the tide has now turned.

"The front-row is now a very strong position for Ireland," he affirmed. "Marty Moore and Jack McGrath have come onto the scene and are young while Cian Healy still has a good few years to go.

"If you look at the other guys, Tadhg Furlong is a massive player coming through, a couple of guys are going well at Connacht and there's (James) Cronin and (Dave) Kilcoyne at Munster.

"Over the years we've looked at the number of foreign props coming in, and there was concern about that at the time, but you can see the legacy of that coming through now and they've had a very positive impact. I don't think there has been an Ireland squad so strong from numbers 15 to 30 or 15 to 40 as it is now.

"There's going to be players missing out who are certainly good enough to play in many of the squads that will be over there and many of the Ireland squads that have gone before."

Belfast Telegraph

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