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Rory Best urges Ireland to oust New Zealand from the Rugby World Cup with no second chance for the captain

Rory Best knows a defeat on Saturday was bring the curtain down on a long career.
Rory Best knows a defeat on Saturday was bring the curtain down on a long career.
Flying high: Jordan Larmour of Ireland scores his team’s fifth try past Dwayne Polataivao of Samoa
Irish skipper Rory Best on the charge
Joe Schmidt
Jonathan Bradley

By Jonathan Bradley

And so Ireland are back at their most familiar of hurdles. A seventh World Cup quarter-final with a record that reads played six, lost six.

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Few, too, will have been as challenging as what's to come in Tokyo on Saturday. Facing the All Blacks, the back-to-back world champions and favourites for a three-peat, will be a marked difference when compared to their last two attempts to break the glass ceiling when they entered contests with Wales and Argentina as relatively strong favourites.

Many of Ireland's key leaders, the likes of Johnny Sexton, Conor Murray, Keith Earls and Rob Kearney, were there for both. As, of course, was skipper Rory Best, now entering a stretch where he knows his next loss will mark the end of a storied career.

Looking back four and eight years after captaining the side to victory over Samoa on Saturday, Best admits that in past failures a sense of over-confidence perhaps crept into the group.

Having fallen flat against Japan after their last positive performance, the Ulsterman has warned they can leave no stone unturned in this week of preparation.

"Hopefully we'll win which would be different from the last two World Cups, that would be nice," he joked when asked what this team could do to separate itself from the quarter-final curse.

"In the last two World Cups, we've looked back after quarter-finals and gone, 'Do you know what? We just weren't quite where we thought we were'.

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"We rolled through two pool stages where we didn't lose a game and probably looking back, maybe we were over-confident. It's hard to know.

"I think that you have to try to prepare. We know that it's knockout and after the Japan game, it's important we've learned lessons.

"I think it's really important that we look back to that Japan week coming off the back of a good performance against Scotland and it's got to be all about rugby.

"We'll enjoy a little bit of down time whenever it's there but ultimately it's about going to a quarter-final and winning it because you don't get a second chance."

Ireland will have considerably less time to prepare than their opponents, giving this last-eight tie something of an odd dynamic, but the 37-year-old believes the seven-day turnaround will make things feel largely familiar for his side.

"Unfortunately with the performance against Japan a couple of weeks ago, we kind of lost control of that," he said of topping the pool. "But we also knew that 10 points from our next two games would guarantee a quarter-final. So we've done that and we'll have to see what happens.

"It is a bit of a wait and see. An extra day is always nicer but still when you start to get six and five-day turnarounds that's when things become complicated. A seven-day turnaround is something we're used to in the Six Nations by and large, so we're used to turning around in that kind of period. It gives us a full run-in.

"That's what we had this week for Samoa, that sort of normal run-in to a game, and we know we're going to have to be better again than we were (against Samoa) and we're going to have to produce some of our best rugby."

Such sentiments were echoed by his head coach. Joe Schmidt, who like Best is entering his final weeks in Irish rugby, likened the challenge of taking on his native land to that of climbing a mountain but added his team are showing signs of preparedness.

"I feel that you've got to be at your very, very best to have a chance and the All Blacks are a sort of team that you could play at your best and still not quite get the result," he said. "They weren't No.1 in the world for 10 years and they're not back-to-back World Cup winners for no reason. "They're that because of the personnel they have, the culture they have and the performance they manage to put together on a very regular basis.

"So it would be, to a degree, a mountain to climb but the lads got their boots on, and they've taken a bit of an ascent. The whole thing gets steeper (against) the All Blacks, then we'll look to scale those heights."

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