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Focused Best is keen to take emotion out of his final Six Nations battle

 

Pumped up: Rory Best is determined to savour his final taste of Six Nations action
Pumped up: Rory Best is determined to savour his final taste of Six Nations action
Joe Schmidt
Jonathan Bradley

By Jonathan Bradley

Given the seemingly remote chances of today ending with him lifting the Championship trophy aloft for the fifth time, Rory Best's Six Nations farewell is unlikely to have a fairytale finish but the Ulster hooker admits he'll be looking to soak up every minute of the occasion and has called on his side to produce the best performance of the Joe Schmidt era against Wales in Cardiff today (2.45pm kick-off).

The only player from his province to ever hit a century of Test caps, this afternoon will be his 64th in this competition, a remarkable tally forged by teak-tough durability.

Going back to 2007, he has missed only two Six Nations games, Italy in Rome two years ago when he came down ill before his captain's run and then being rested for the same fixture last month.

"It's incredibly special for me and my family," said the man who will retire fully from Test rugby after this year's World Cup.

"I was old enough to watch the Five Nations and as a family we went down for nearly every home game.

"And then I have been incredibly lucky to play in it for so many years. It's a proper, traditional rugby tournament.

"While I will miss the matches, there will be moments like struggling to put a pre-match meal down your neck and having all those nerves running around which I won't miss.

"And my mum and dad haven't enjoyed an Ireland game since 2005 with nerves. It will be nice to enjoy the matches with my family.

"There have been so many highs but also so many lows.

"I'll try not to get too emotional. Hopping on the bus, the team anthems, realising that this is the last time you'll ever do any of these things.

"That special atmosphere in the dressing room when everyone is knackered. Thinking about those moments makes you emotional. But I've dragged it out of it for long enough now.

"I wanted to go out on my terms, when I feel I'm playing well and we know we still have something to do later in the year."

Best's very first Six Nations game came against Wales too, although that in Lansdowne Road, and he says there is no better venue than the Principality Stadium in which to finish up. He scored his first Six Nations try here, was part of the squad that won a Grand Slam here 10 years ago and also had a few memorable days in the stadium - as well as one eminently forgettable one at the World Cup in 2015.

"Barring the Aviva Stadium there's probably no other stadium that I'd rather play my last Six Nations game in," he said. "This place, when it's full and there's something on the line as there will be, it is an incredibly special place to play."

With Wales chasing the third Grand Slam of Warren Gatland's tenure, and Ireland's title hopes depending on victory then an England slip-up, Best believes it will take one of their most complete showings of recent memory to upset the hosts' planned party.

"It will take one of our best performances of the Six Nations, arguably the best performance this group has produced," he said of a group who have beaten the All Blacks and secured a Grand Slam in Twickenham over the past year.

"We have produced good performances before but it is so tough to come here against a side on such a winning roll in this place which is incredibly tough to win anyway."

The conditions will be tough too after Ireland decided the stadium's roof will remain open and exposed to the elements of Storm Hannah, a decision they took against Welsh wishes.

"I think in the end really we made a decision on playing a game of rugby in the outdoors, if you like," Best confirmed.

"A lot has been made of it, more outside our camp. We felt it was the best decision to be made and we focused on playing the match.

"Because it's such a big stadium, the wind swirls a bit... it's something we thought a little bit about, but ultimately we wanted to forget about it, get it parked and get on with it."

Given the number of Kiwis on show in this game and across the Six Nations, the Ireland skipper was also quick to pay tribute to those who lost their lives in the deplorable attack on a Christchurch mosque yesterday.

"Waking up this morning to that news, it's just really, really tragic," he said. "Our heartfelt sympathies go out to all the families and anyone in that Christchurch area and anyone with family over there.

"We have Joe here, we have Greg Feek, Bundee Aki has family in New Zealand. Ronan O'Gara, who is a good friend of a lot of the squad, is over there as well, so it's just one of those tragedies that's hard to put into words.

"We feel very helpless that all we can do is pass on our deepest sympathies. It's really, really tragic. It was definitely the talk of the team room this morning at breakfast, everyone was shocked and saddened by it."

Those sentiments were echoed by Best's Welsh counterpart Alun Wyn Jones.

"On behalf of the Welsh Rugby Union players and staff, I'd just like to pass on my respects to everyone affected by the events that have gone on in New Zealand," said Jones. "A lot of our staff have close links with New Zealand so I'd like to pass that on."

Bradley's Verdict: Wales

A final Six Nations showdown between Joe Schmidt and Warren Gatland should hopefully provide a pulsating finale to a Championship that arguably peaked in week one in terms of quality. The roof debate made for good headlines but exposing the game to the elements of Storm Hannah does, however, somewhat dilute the chances of a free-flowing affair. It should still be a brutal encounter perhaps decided by home advantage and Slam motivation.

The World Cup remains on the horizon but today will still bring the curtain down on an incredible Six Nations career for Ireland's hooker and captain Rory Best, one of the Championship's most durable modern-day players.

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