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Ireland captain Rory Best: We can still charge ahead in Six Nations

By Jonathan Bradley

It is unlikely that any of the possible scenarios Rory Best thought up ahead of his first Test since succeeding Paul O'Connell as captain saw the game end in a draw, but the hooker admitted that his side were happy to see their Six Nations opener conclude with honours even against Wales yesterday.

The 33-year-old became the first Ulsterman since Paddy Johns in the 1990s to lead Ireland on a permanent basis when he was announced as O'Connell's successor and his reign got off to the best possible start with the hosts racing into a 13-point lead at the Aviva Stadium after just under half an hour.

They were pegged back though, and trailed in the final 10 minutes when Rhys Priestland knocked over the third penalty of his substitute appearance, only for Jonathan Sexton to ensure that Ireland avoided opening their title defence with a defeat thanks to a shot at the posts of his own in the dying minutes to seal a 16-16 draw.

Often seen as an unsatisfactory outcome for both sides in such a short championship, Best described himself as "reasonably happy" with the result.

"I think it's a strange result. Usually no one is happy with a draw but at 16-13 you look at the Welsh defence and we're probably reasonably happy with the draw," said Best who made way for Sean Cronin after 75 minutes.

"For us, it's about concentrating on bits of the performance we're very happy with and then there are bits we know we can do better.

"One thing we talked about and wanted to concentrate on was our start. I think we started very, very well.

"The flip side of that is we're obviously disappointed with the last 10 minutes of that (first) half. We let them back in when we had a good firm hold of things.

"A draw keeps us in it, keeps us in the championship and it's a lot better than a loss."

While the defence from Joe Schmidt's side was admirable, especially in the absence of a specialised coach after Les Kiss departed for Ulster following the World Cup, there was one prominent area of concern - the scrum.

Ireland's pack - missing the likes of Cian Healy, Mike Ross, Marty Moore and Iain Henderson from their tight five - struggled to get to grips with their Welsh counterparts, especially in the first-half.

Wales' score through Taulupe Faletau came off the base of the scrum after multiple penalties must have had Jerome Garces pondering whether a further transgression would lead to a penalty try and a spell in the bin.

While things looked considerably more solid after the turn, even with Gethin Jenkins entering the fray for Wales, Best admits it will be an area to look at during their short turnaround before taking on France in Paris on Saturday, even if he seemed slightly sceptical about the methods of the opposition pack.

"It's something we talked about at half-time," he said. "We had to hit out, we had to get our right shoulder out, just to stop them trying to slide round.

"The balance in the first-half didn't help us. You have to keep working. We want to stay square and put a stable platform on, we definitely got there in the second-half but we're disappointed we didn't get enough opportunity to do that in the first-half.

"It's one area of France's game that, in club rugby and international rugby, that they're particularly strong.

"There's probably areas of their scrum are probably quite similar to Wales, they look for angles and they don't necessarily always want that straight contest.

"For us, there are aspects of that second-half that we're happy with but there's no doubt that France are dangerous there.

"We'll have to dissect that and make sure we have a good plan."

A satisfactory result on what was a red letter day for Best, the Poyntzpass man did his utmost to take in as much of the occasion as possible.

"I think it's something that you have to try and enjoy, especially that sort of 24 hours or so post the team run through to kick-off," he added. "It feels like it drags but when you look back it goes in a flash. The big thing for me was the senior players that we have in the squad and the way we shared that leadership. It takes a little pressure off.

"There's no doubt that we're battered and bruised right now. In terms of captaining, the boys make it very easy, the coaching staff and everyone, we definitely share that responsibility and share it well.

"As a forward it was a fairly enjoyable game to be a part of. I think when you come off the pitch in the front five and you're a bit battered and bruised that's always a good thing."

Looking ahead to France, it's a feeling that's sure to be repeated in the coming week.

Belfast Telegraph


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