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Irish must make use of second chance, says Rory Best

Flashback: Rory Best is stopped in his tracks by Argentina’s Mario Ledesma Arocena at the 2007 World Cup
Flashback: Rory Best is stopped in his tracks by Argentina’s Mario Ledesma Arocena at the 2007 World Cup
Jonathan Bradley

By Jonathan Bradley

It's the memory that still haunts Irish Rugby. Twelve years on, the ghost of 2007 is still the elephant in the room.

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It rears its head the moment things start to go awry, mentioned somewhere in the aftermath of each Ireland defeat so far in 2019.

It'll have been more frequent over the last 10 days of course, the loss to Japan last weekend a first pool defeat since those sorry days in Bordeaux while there were a few similarities between the second-half of the win over Russia on Thursday and those laboured victories over Georgia and Namibia that began Eddie O'Sullivan's second crack at the World Cup in such a discomforting fashion.

Ireland's longest serving player, skipper Rory Best, is the only man still standing from that tournament and he can sense how it hangs over the nation's consciousness still.

"Everyone really, really wants to reference back to 2007," he said when asked what he can draw from his past World Cups as Ireland move their focus towards Samoa a week from today and a quarter-final that still seems likely to be against the All Blacks.

"But this is a completely different group of players, a completely different management and I see absolutely no similarities to '07.

"The big one we're focusing on is the one we talked about where it's alright saying that you're building, but ultimately, quarter-finals, the last two World Cups we went into them in a really, really good place.

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"We beat Australia in 2011, topped a group that nobody expected us to top and everyone was saying 'who have we got in the semis' because we only had Wales in the quarters and then we got absolutely hammered.

"It was the same with Argentina, everyone thought the same thing and booked the flights for the semi-finals. But sport doesn't work like that, a bit like we found out against Japan.

"We're drawing on the positivity of having a lesson to learn in a World Cup.

"Every team has one at some point, we had ours in the second game. We need to make sure we're better than that."

For 'better than that' read 'close to their best'. It's all well and good talking about building into a tournament but Ireland are now at a stage where they're running out of road if the opener against Scotland is not to be an isolated high. Even if they beat Samoa with a bonus point, they could still be facing the All Blacks in Tokyo just seven days later rather than the extra day granted to the pool winner.

For a team whose strength has been their consistency, time is running out to recapture what it is that made them one of the favourites for this tournament 12 months ago.

"Whenever we're not quite right I think there's no point in us talking about our strength as a collective and doing our basics well and working for each other," Best admitted.

"Whenever you don't quite get that and you're relying on individual talent, we have a lot of individual talent but at the same time we also know our strength is our collective and when that doesn't function and you fall off by a couple of per cent you're going to be susceptible (to defeats like Japan)."

In a sense, today and tomorrow provide the rare eye in the storm. Having opened their pool with what many perceived to be their toughest match, they've been back in action after only six and five day turnarounds since.

With Samoa in Fukuoka only coming some nine days after Russia, the squad have been granted consecutive days off with no training or media commitments this weekend.

A group dinner was planned last night while it will be hoped the ability to switch off offers a chance to reset ahead of the great challenges down the road.

"You very rarely get this opportunity in a World Cup," Best noted.

"Certainly, in the last two you didn't really get this kind of 'right, let's go away and take 48 hours'. We'll go and enjoy each other's company, have a bit of craic, enjoy being at a World Cup and we can still come in (on Monday) and do a normal match week.

"It's like a Six Nations when you get a weekend at home and you come in on a Sunday night and you're ready to go again, and we have to use that. I think as a group, it's not something we're focusing on.

"There's a lot of focus outside of here on mistakes that we're making, but rugby and in sport in general a week is a long time as we found out from Scotland to Japan.

"But we're focusing on the positives to what we're doing.

"Ultimately, you're at a World Cup and very rarely do you get a second go at a bad performance in a World Cup.

"We've got that now and we have to seize that opportunity.

"It's not a case of we have to try this or that, we know and we've been in a set-up that has proven time and time again over the years that it works and I think we all have no issue buying into that.

"It's hard sometimes to get away from the negativity that 'this isn't working and this isn't working' but we're playing against teams that are also at a World Cup and trying to seize their opportunity.

"But you have got to weather those storms and be better in the moment, that is what we need to be better at."

Considerably so given what lies ahead.

Belfast Telegraph


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