Rory Best: Ireland were victims of their own complacency in Six Nations reality check
Ireland captain Rory Best believes his team were the victims of complacency during this year's Six Nations and says they are determined to prove that the tournament was not a true reflection of their ability.
Joe Schmidt's side went from Grand Slam winners to third place finishers after defeats to England and Wales last spring, undermining the public's confidence in their ability to do something special at next month's World Cup.
Best, however, believes the team can get back to the form of 2018 when they beat New Zealand, completed a Six Nations clean sweep and secured a tour victory in Australia by going back to basics in pre-season.
"The first thing I remember of Joe's time in charge was sitting in a team meeting and he asked how we perceive ourselves. The big word from all the group was 'inconsistent'," FloGas ambassador Best recalled at a launch in Carton House today.
"The big thing he said was no matter how we play, we have got to prepare the same way.
"That's been the hallmark of Joe, to go away from that foundation now would be madness.
"Probably subconsciously, in the 2019 Six Nations we maybe did. I don't think it was anything conscious, but when you look back now we probably believed that we had the ability to turn up beat anyone. That we were this all-conquering force having won the Grand Slam, tour wins in Australia tour, beaten the All Blacks and Argentina.
"It's funny how those little things go through your head. Maybe, at this level, it's not doing that extra couple of minutes on the computer tonight. I'll look at training, but skip a bit.
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"It sometimes takes a reality check, finishing third to us was bitterly disappointing.
"When the boys came in at the start of pre-season everyone as hungry as I’ve seen when a group of players come together.
"You always get a pocket who are hungry, a pocket ready to go and another pocket who are just coming in because it is at the start of pre-season and they have to be here.
"But by and large we have a couple of players who want to prove that 2019 was the blip, not 2018."
Schmidt will finish up as Ireland coach after the tournament concludes and Best believes his biggest legacy will be the calibre of coaches he leaves behind.
And he's backing a current team-mate to make a good fist of stepping into the coaching booth when he retires.
"Potentially, one of Joe’s biggest legacies is the coaches he has brought through," he said.
"You see it already with Leo (Cullen at Leinster). Johnny (Sexton) is an obvious one, having worked with Joe over the long-term.
"There is a lot of really intelligent players playing rugby now and there should be a pathway for them to get through, to get native coaches into provinces, the underage system and the Irish national team.
"Our system and the New Zealand system are very similar in the way we look after players, but what they do better is ring-fence coaches.
"Not many foreign coaches get in there, there's a pathway to go through."
Best has at most 11 more games as a rugby player before he retires, but he's feeling good about his body as the World Cup approaches.
"A lot of people moan about pre-season," he said.
"I do too, but I like it, I like being top of the ground and feeling fit. Whenever you get near end of career and can see the end, you get excited about playing these last games.
"Joe is not a person to keep anyone for nostalgia reasons. I'm surrounded by three really good hookers trying to get past me and I’ve to drive to stay ahead of them.
"I'm just enjoying my rugby."