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Six Nations: Skipper Rory Best backs young guns to fire Ireland to Grand Slam

By Jonathan Bradley

Skipper Rory Best has called on his Ireland team-mates to step up one last time and claim just the third Grand Slam in Ireland’s history against England this weekend.

Joe Schmidt’s side won the Six Nations title for the third time in five years over the weekend thanks to their victory over Scotland and England’s loss in France, but there is still a Grand Slam and Triple Crown on the line when they travel to Twickenham on Saturday (2.45pm kick-off).

And despite banking 19 points from a possible 20 over the first four games of the championship, Best believes Ireland will have to be even better to break England’s long unbeaten home run under Eddie Jones.

He is backing young players like Ulster try-scoring sensation Jacob Stockdale to keep writing their names in the history books.

“They are a young group but they have it in them,” he asserted. “It’s going to be a big game for us,” added Best, who is expected to have his new contract confirmed before the end of this month.

“They all are, but whenever you put yourself in a position to win everything in a Six Nations, in this great championship, it becomes massive.

“We’ve tried to improve game on game and it has to be the same again. We have to have saved the best for last, that’s what it’s going to take.”

Since becoming Ireland captain in 2016 following the retirement of Paul O’Connell, Best has led sides who have beaten the All Blacks, won in South Africa and now claimed a Six Nations title.

Best dismissed any notion though that adding a Grand Slam to that list would be any sort of personal accolade.

“It’d be special, it’d be special for everyone in the squad though,” he said.

“It’s a squad thing and that’s what it’s all about.

“I’m the one lucky enough to be captain but we have a lot of good leaders in that squad and it’s really showed at times throughout this tournament.

“At times when we were under pressure (on Saturday), and Scotland we’re playing chaotic, uncontrolled rugby, we were able to get our breath back and the spine of the team is really important in that.”

With the most recent of Ireland’s previous two Grand Slams coming in 2009, Best is one of only two members of the current squad who know what it’s like to achieve the holy grail of northern hemisphere rugby.

The 35-year-old, who played all five matches of that campaign, starting one, thinks that the make-up of the panel means they will be able to insulate themselves against pressure from the weight of history.

“The key for us is to make sure we approach it the same way we do with every game,” he said. “The beauty of this squad is that we never get too far ahead of ourselves. People get bored of us saying all championship long that it’s one game at a time, but that’s the mentality.

“We chip off each game as it comes. We got another five points (against Scotland) and it’s a big week ahead for us because of what we’ve done previously so we have to stick to that.

“I think, by and large, we’re in a bubble. When things aren’t going well, you’re shielded a bit from it and it’s the same when there’s a big game. Everyone is aware how big the game is and how big the challenge is to go there and win, they haven’t lost at home there under Eddie Jones, and it’s going to be a massive challenge.

“But as much as possible you have to treat it like another game.

“We know what works for us, we know what position we have to be in, and we have to get all those processes right and go into Saturday with that confidence behind us then leave everything out there.”

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