Best backs Irish strength in depth to deliver title repeat
Rory Best believes Ireland are ready to claim a place in history during the Six Nations and retain the title for the first time in over 30 years.
Only three times in the history of the competition has an Irish team managed to win successive championships, but the Ulster hooker thinks that Joe Schmidt's men can make it four.
"I believe when you look at the depth in the squad that we have the ability to win the Six Nations if we stay focused on each game," said the 32-year-old.
Since a bountiful start to the 1980s when Irish teams won three out of four championships between 1982 and '85, putting two title-winning seasons together has proved beyond Ireland.
Best acknowledged that every opposition player will be a laser guided missile locked on to the man in green who stands against him over the next seven weeks but the mental strength imparted by Schmidt will help them avoid the fate of the Irish team which was successful in the 2006 autumn internationals only to spectacularly implode in the following months.
"I was involved in the last team that had a clean sweep in the autumn and went into the Six Nations full of hope. We did reasonably well but we went to a World Cup a few months later and did nothing at it."
Schmidt's tunnel-vision mantra is one bought into by his squad. Best refused to contemplate the future beyond Saturday's gladiatorial fight with Italy in Rome's Olympic Stadium even though it foreshadows the World Cup pool scenario later this year when Ireland will take on Italy before a crucial clash with the French.
The Six Nations is the last bastion of the traditional scoring system where bonus points do not exist. The Ulster hooker feels their introduction is inevitable although Ireland did benefit from their absence last year.
"With England last year if the shoe had been on the other foot we'd be sitting here now saying there should be bonus points. You would imagine that at some stage it will catch up with every other competition and they'll have to restructure that a little bit," he admitted.
The mantle of favouritism has not rested easily on Irish teams of various persuasions but this Irish side has been forged by Schmidt to withstand that pressure.
Ireland's head coach has generally ignored mentioning titles and Grand Slams in his interactions with the team so far, Italy being the sole item on the agenda.
However, the lack of bonus points puts pressure on teams to achieve Grand Slams, Best argues, as it is the only way to guarantee the trophy.
His approach to delivering that second title is simple - chant Joe's mantra.
"We have to make sure we give Italy the same respect we give France the following week. If you alter that you're setting yourself up for a fall."
Sunday Indo Sport