Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 20 September 2014

Rory Best has his sights on world domination

Ulster's Rory Best

He's wearing an Ulster shirt, and has so far been doing most of his pre-season work with his Ravenhill team-mates, but the conversation is all about Ireland and a certain World Cup that is looming large on Rory Best's radar.

The second of Ireland's pre-World Cup squad camps scheduled for this month began yesterday, at Carton House in Co Kildare, and though Best is clearly the man in possession of an Ireland starting shirt, the experienced hooker prefers to tread carefully when discussing the lead-up to this autumn in New Zealand.

"This year (with pre-season) there's certainly a bit of extra incentive with those of us involved with Ireland hoping to get on the plane to New Zealand," the 47-times capped Best says.

"But until you're actually sitting in the seat, waiting for take-off, you take nothing for granted you just have to put your head down and work hard and hope that things go your way.

"There are four big games in August (World Cup warm-up games, during which the final squad will be announced) and there are going to be injuries so you just touch wood and hope that you're not one of the ones who gets hurt."

Barring such an injury, Best will be on that plane with the only other hookers in the current squad being Sean Cronin and the injury-ravaged Jerry Flannery.

It is also possible that this could be the Poyntzpass man's last World Cup experience - he marks his 29th birthday next month - and he, along with a fair smattering of veteran Ireland squad members, will want to make sure that they give a much better account of themselves than in 2007, when Ireland's form disintegrated and they surprisingly fell short of making the quarter-finals.

"There are definitely a few boys for who it may be their last World Cup, and as we get close to it they'll be really keen to go and I suppose after the memories of four years ago you just really want to go and also enjoy it.

"It's not that we went the last time intent not to enjoy it, but it's just the way it worked out for us," he adds.

Back then, Best also had other matters to contend with away from what proved to be the beginning of the end for Eddie O'Sullivan's tenure in charge of the side - though O'Sullivan is now coaching Ireland's first World Cup opponents the USA Eagles - as his brother and fellow squad member Simon was suddenly taken ill with an irregular heart rhythm that ultimately ended his career.

Much of the post-World Cup analysis in 2007 was focused on the squad's preparation including several trips to an isolated and much-disliked training camp in Poland, and how the players ended up being so under-cooked both mentally and physically when even struggling to see off minnows Namibia and Georgia.

This time around, Kidney's programme is much more balanced-looking and is not merely about protecting his key players from injury - as O'Sullivan chose to do - but with greater emphasis placed on home-based preparation alongside a much more clearly defined squad ethos and a shorter lead-in time than four years ago.

"Yes, it's a shorter preparation than last time," Best says.

"This year we've bascially stuck to the normal Irish schedule which is four weeks off and then we start pre-season.

"There are quite a few Irish camps, but at the same time we feel we are getting a lot of time at home with our families.

"For the 30 or so guys who are lucky enough to get on that plane it's going to be a long time away so it's important to get as much time at home as you can, so the hope is that Declan has got the balance right," Best, who is a core leader within the squad, adds.

If this proves to be his last World Cup, Best wants to make sure there are no regrets.

"In terms of what it is, the World Cup is the pinnacle of anyone's rugby career.

"The big thing from our point of view is to go and to really enjoy it."

This time, they badly want to get it right.

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