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Honest Best bullish about Ireland's chances

THE one thing that Ireland are certain to get from Neil Best, when they head off to the World Cup today, is honesty.

As a back-row forward on the pitch, he knows no other way. Ask him a question off it, and you get the same directness, even if it means playing himself down a bit.

A couple of seasons back, he produced a memorable performance in the autumn success over Australia to be voted 'Man of the Match'. But, when questioned about how he felt afterwards, he commented that he was "disappointed" he hadn't made three or four really big hits.

Somewhat differently, he was named 'Man of the Match' in the recent World Cup warm-up victory over Italy at Ravenhill. The obvious difference is that, while Ireland were outstanding in beating Australia, they were extremely poor in getting the better of Italy.

So, being named 'Man of the Match' didn't exactly count for much? "No it didn't." admits Best.

"The award didn't make me feel any better, because my agent (Ryan Constable) was commentating for the BBC and he made the decision.

"He's obviously trying to secure another few years for me. And yes, I will be retaining his services, but don't tell him that because I want him to keep him on his toes."

On a more serious note, Best doesn't believe too much should be read into Ireland's disappointing pre-World Cup campaign.

"Against Scotland, it was a weakened team, with Brian O'Driscoll and Paul O'Connell missing. I think that's probably why we were poor. The Bayonne encounter wasn't much of a rugby game. Then the Italian fixture was a chance to show the public what we can do, but it was a crap game as well.

"Just the same, that's not important. It's when we get to France that everything counts."

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Importantly, Best really enjoys France, even though he has yet to win there on three visits with Ulster.

What's more, he respects the French side enormously.

All the more so, because they can afford to leave out some top players for Friday's opening World Cup encounter against Argentina. But there's also the fact France will be under a lot of pressure as the home nation.

Consequently he feels Friday night's Stade de France clash will be very revealing. Best, and fellow Ulster flanker Stephen Ferris, have watched with interest the return to full fitness of David Wallace on the basis that, they have both had to play out of position, in the number seven jersey in those warm-up games.

Encouragingly, Ferris believes Wallace will hit the ground running, despite his injury problems. Ferris said: "David is a fantastic player. If I can learn a few things from him, I'll be doing well."