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Rory Best criticism is unfair but Ireland captain is keen to reach his own standards: Schmidt

 

Rory Best
Rory Best
In reserve: Rory Best will come off the bench tomorrow
Jonathan Bradley

By Jonathan Bradley

Ireland coach Joe Schmidt has branded the criticism of skipper Rory Best unfair and undue.

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The 37-year-old Ulsterman has been left carrying the can in some quarters after the side's record defeat in Twickenham last week but, ahead of a return to action tomorrow against Wales, Schmidt believes the tale of the tape offers another story.

"The people who maybe launched the criticism at him, some of it is unfair," said the coach of Best, who has also been backed by Conor Murray this week.

"The quality of what he provided as far as his support play and his breakdown work was still of a really good standard and to put his performance in the nutshell that is the lineout when there are so many moving parts (is wrong).

"He will be disappointed with a few throws but, at the same time, some of the calls, the speed and shape of the movement (didn't help) so there is a little bit of undue criticism.

"At the same time, Rory is very self-critical so he is very conscious of wanting to improve himself. I'm not sure he has read what is external but sets a very high benchmark for himself and he will be keen to re-establish that off the bench on Saturday."

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It was not originally planned for Best to be involved this week but his inclusion was flagged on Tuesday when a sponsor's engagement due to take place the next day was pulled.

Schmidt said yesterday that, while broadly sticking to his planned selection, there is a desire to see Best and prop Tadhg Furlong get up to half an hour off the bench.

"Rory feels that he was underdone and didn't have the energy in his legs (last week)," he said.

"It was always the plan (to make sweeping changes). We've got to best prepare our 31, whichever player then makes the 31, to have had a bit of game time and got a bit of rhythm because you saw what it was like when a team has had a couple of games and the other team hasn't played or the bulk of that team hasn't played at all. You're not suddenly at top speed.

"You need a hit-out, maybe two, before you are up to speed. It's probably the forwards who need that hit out. Some of the backs performed well in that first game and that gives us a bit of comfort around the likes of Johnny (Sexton), Robbie (Henshaw) and Keith Earls who are all highly likely to play next week."

Ireland could clearly do with a morale-boosting first Cardiff victory in four years with the World Cup now hurtling into view but, after the week just gone, Schmidt wants his players focused on nothing more than the 80 minutes ahead.

"It's funny because last weekend should have been the most important game that we were thinking of and, if I am to be frank, some of those players were not thinking about that game last weekend, they were thinking about making sure they were 'on the plane' and you can't afford be looking after yourself and you can't afford to be behind the game like we were last week.

"So it is the most important game for some time but each week should be the most important one. I know that's a cliché that we have continually repeated over the last six-and-and-a-half years that I have been involved but it has allowed us to get ahead in games.

"Probably three-quarters of the games we have played we have won and that has been down to a focus on a week to week commitment to what is immediately in front of us and not worry about Scotland in the World Cup (opener).

"I do think we took our eye off the ball. We were not quite up for the game as we should have been and we were a bit heavy-legged. I accept the responsibility for that but sometimes that is a bit of a character test: can you get over that and still deliver?"

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