Thursday 19 October 2017

Ireland target Springboks scalp after tough Six Nations campaign

Rory Best insists Ireland can "create history" by winning Test matches in South Africa for the first time this summer - whoever captains Joe Schmidt's side.

Ulster hooker Best was appointed captain for the RBS 6 Nations in the wake of Paul O'Connell's retirement, guiding boss Schmidt's men through a transitional, injury-stricken campaign.

Ireland bludgeoned past Scotland 35-25 in Dublin on Saturday, leaving Best pleased with the reaction after defeats in England and France ended any hopes of a third consecutive title.

Best remained coy on his chances of captaining Ireland for the three-Test tour of South Africa in June, when Ireland will hope to have Iain Henderson and Peter O'Mahony fit after long-term injury.

"There's obviously a fair bit of rugby to play between now and then hopefully back at our provinces," said Best, when quizzed on leading Ireland in South Africa.

"We'll sign out tomorrow and look forward to knocking lumps out of each other for two months.

"We've now won two games, and we can go to South Africa and try to create history by winning Test matches over there.

"It's been really enjoyable to lead Ireland for this Six Nations, and I suppose I'll just wait and see if the old body holds up.

"It's been a massive honour to captain Ireland.

"Here you're surrounded by leaders. Even someone like CJ Stander who made his debut at the start of the Six Nations captains Munster.

"It's not left to one person, everyone's contributing and we're always trying to be better."

Munster flanker O'Mahony's impending return from knee surgery will not only bolster Ireland's back-row options but also offer boss Schmidt another captaincy option.

O'Mahony is perhaps the most natural long-term successor to O'Connell for Ireland's captaincy, especially in terms of his leadership style.

Ireland battled past Scotland in Dublin thanks to tries from Stander, Keith Earls, Conor Murray and Devin Toner.

Stuart Hogg, Richie Gray and Alex Dunbar crossed for Scotland, but Dunbar and John Barclay were hit with pivotal yellow cards.

A "relieved" Schmidt admitted to excitement at the prospect of welcoming back O'Mahony and Henderson for the South Africa tour.

Henderson's recovery from hamstring trouble will add to Ireland's second-row stocks, with Schmidt impressed by Donnacha Ryan's progress over the Six Nations.

"It is exciting to have those guys coming back because they'll hopefully be looking over their shoulder," said Schmidt.

"Pete (O'Mahony) was huge for us in the last two Six Nations and his performance in the first 60 minutes against France was immense before he got injured.

"CJ Stander has come in and got better with every game. Pete's probably looking at that going, 'Well, I better roll my sleeves up and keep working hard'. I hope that that's part of the challenge.

"I really think Donnacha Ryan has grown in the last couple of games, Ultan Dillane obviously we mentioned. Iain Henderson is going to look at the six or the lock position and say, 'I better roll my sleeves up and get working'.

"Transition is permanent, change is permanent. You're always going to be making changes.

"You're always looking for pieces you think will fit the overall jigsaw but we're going to get a few more pieces back."

Scotland boss Vern Cotter was left to rue the yellow cards he felt cost his side the chance of three successive championship victories for the first time in 20 years.

"It wasn't a good start, we acknowledge that," said Cotter. "They held the ball well and we couldn't get our hands back on it.

"Once we held the ball we managed to get them under pressure. But playing 20 minutes with only 14 on the field is tough.

"They still showed character and spirit, and scored some good tries.

"We accept criticism because it helps us move forward so we'll analyse it and have a good look.

"We're driven to improve. That's not just a story we're telling, that's something that is within the group and will continue to thrive.

"So if we take a half-step backwards to shift us forward we'll take it."

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