Best: Ireland must show consistency
Published 01/02/2013 | 05:00
Rory Best and his Ireland side flew out to Cardiff last night freighting some unwanted baggage, namely that of being a squad who remain unfulfilled after failing to kick on from their Grand Slam triumph of 2009.
Though Declan Kidney's side completed Ireland's first Championship clean sweep since 1948, there lingers a gnawing sense that subsequent seasons have failed to produce the rewards demanded of this most talented group.
And as Best surveys the landscape of this latest crusade, one that may include its most potent talisman, Brian O'Driscoll, for the last time, he reveals that he and his team-mates are hungry to atone for a slew of missed opportunities since that 2009 success.
"Probably, as a whole, yes," Best agrees unhesitatingly when it is put to him that Ireland have largely failed to back up that singular achievement in 2009, in the wake of subsequent underwhelming Six Nations tilts and a flawed World Cup venture.
"We have shown in bits and pieces that we are still a top side, but we still have to get that consistency in the big games.
"From winning the Grand Slam in 2009 we have flattered to deceive in a number of competitions and that is not the standard that we play and live by in our provinces.
"And it is not the standard in the last six or eight months that we have been talking about as a group.
"There is no doubt that there is a bit of unfulfilled potential there, but there have been a lot of new faces who have come in over the last six to 12 months. Hopefully now we can start to show a bit of consistency."
Best (below) was also at pains to refute suggestions that the rake of contract negotiations that regularly occur at this time of the year, particularly Jonathan Sexton's protracted move to France, will impinge on the team.
However, he did sympathise with his own players' union's idea that the timing of future negotiations perhaps be adjusted to ensure they do not interfere with the build-up to tournament play.
"That would be something that would be more along the lines of what's done in soccer," he says. "From a player's point of view that would be great because you'd have that security 18 months out.
"I'm sure the IRFU would argue that 18 months is a long time to judge what somebody's form is going to be like. Rugby is a very physical game so there's a lot more longer-term injuries.
"There's all of that unknown so I'm sure there would be a counter-argument to it (but) from a player's point of view I think obviously the sooner it can be done the better."
Best was himself involved in a similar scenario this time last year when he was mulling over a contract extension, which did not prove to be as painless as had been expected.
"As far as I was concerned I wanted to stay a part of Ulster and stay within the IRFU and be looked after the way I was," he relates.
"The IRFU were more than fair to me, it just took a bit longer to get across the line. I had no intention of leaving and unless you're fairly sure you want to leave I don't think there's any point trying to almost blackmail each other.
"Contract negotiations go well when both sides are fairly open and say what they want. I was happy to stay with Ulster and that helped the thing to go along.
"I don't think it is a distraction. The only time we have mentioned it is to slag someone off one way or the other and, to be fair to the boys who are up for a contract, they have conducted themselves well.
"Even with the Jonny thing, Jonny said nothing about it and then all of a sudden we were leaving camp on Friday and it was announced and by the time we arrived back in camp on the Sunday, rugby is such a fast-moving world that it was almost old news.
"Credit to the players in the way that they went about their business. It shows just how professional they are and it hasn't been a distraction."