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We can deal with pressure ahead of World Cup: Best

 

Words of wisdom: Ireland captain Rory Best takes the Emerald Warriors through their final training session ahead of the Union Cup, Europe’s biggest LGBT+ inclusive rugby tournament which takes place in Dublin this weekend
Words of wisdom: Ireland captain Rory Best takes the Emerald Warriors through their final training session ahead of the Union Cup, Europe’s biggest LGBT+ inclusive rugby tournament which takes place in Dublin this weekend

By Cian Tracey

Having seen it all before, in three World Cups, Rory Best is at the stage now where every little detail matters as he prepares for his swansong in Japan.

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Plenty of lessons have been learned since the disastrous 2007 campaign, but talk is cheap, and no one knows that better than the Ireland captain.

After blitzing all who came before them last season, Joe Schmidt's side often played as if they had the weight of the world on their shoulders this year.

Ultimately, they never recovered from being left "broken" by England, as Schmidt put it, and that was something that was also felt by the players.

"Yeah, we did, and then we went to Scotland and didn't really fire the way we would have liked to," Best admits.

"I think we play best when we enjoy our rugby - bring physicality, but ultimately we enjoy it and we get fired in.

"You look at the Grand Slam in 2018, everyone looked like they were enjoying their rugby.

"It comes with winning to an extent, but you get to a point, yes, you're winning, but the more you win, the more pressure there is, and we looked like we were enjoying the pressure.

"But at the end of the thing (Six Nations), it looked like the pressure was almost too much for us, but it isn't the case when you look at the big-game players we have."

Best is quick to dismiss the comparisons with the build-up to the 2007 World Cup, but he does point to the fact that the Ireland players cannot expect the creases to be ironed out before they arrive in Japan unless they put it right themselves over the coming couple of months.

"We've got to address it," he continues.

"There's no point going, 'oh, sure it'll be right when we get to Japan' because if you have that attitude, like 2007, that's when you come unstuck.

"I've heard a couple of players who played then saying, 'there are a lot of similarities to it' but in my eyes there isn't because we now know we can't just reproduce what we've produced.

"We kind of went in '07 saying, 'we'll be fine when we get there', well we won't be. Hopefully we will be, but we can't have that attitude. We've got to look at why and how and be big about it."

Like Schmidt, Best will bow out after the World Cup as he brings the curtain down on a fine career that has seen plenty of ups and downs.

There is, however, a sense of unfinished business, and the 36-year-old believes the Kiwi is determined to cement his legacy as the greatest Ireland head coach of all time.

"I have no doubt that was part of Joe's thinking for staying on," Best adds. "Sure, after the last World Cup he maybe contemplated not going through until the next one.

"But I know that it probably grinds him a bit that he has created history everywhere else, except he's just another coach who has gotten us to a quarter-final, if you like. That was probably part of his thinking."

Best's position in the starting XV has come under scrutiny and, while he acknowledges the quality of the other hookers in the squad, he isn't about to let them overtake him.

"They've played a bit, obviously I'm happy they haven't played any more, but at least they're getting top-class rugby in their provinces as the starting hooker in Seanie (Cronin) and Scans' (Niall Scannell's) case," he adds.

"It's something you've got to be aware of as there will be opportunities.

"It's the balancing act in the summer between giving everyone a shot at getting on the plane and giving players enough time to get match conditioning in.

"In this example, giving someone who hasn't started a lot in international rugby a start. But that's Joe's job, isn't it?"

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