Sunday 25 March 2018

'We must get out of blocks'

Captain urges Ireland to learn from last year's slow start as they begin Six Nations campaign in Paris

Ireland captain Rory Best practising his throwing in the Stade de France yesterday. Photo: INPHO
Ireland captain Rory Best practising his throwing in the Stade de France yesterday. Photo: INPHO
Ruaidhri O'Connor

Ruaidhri O'Connor

Ireland captain Rory Best says the team will learn from the slow start that cost them so dear last season against Scotland.

Ireland arrived at Murrayfield late 12 months ago and then produced a below-par performance that cost them the chance at a Grand Slam and any momentum going into the tournament.

A year previously, they drew at home to Wales on the opening day, squandering a series of gilt-edged opportunities on another disappointing opening day.

This evening, they begin the 2018 campaign in Paris as they take on a French team looking to begin a new era under Jacques Brunel with a win.

And Best says the team have learned from the lessons of 2016 and 2017.

"You put so much more pressure on yourself as a group, obviously the draw with Wales was a frustrating one because we actually started really well and we played really well in it," he said.

"There were a couple of little things that went against us. Last year, it was almost as if we started cold.

"We were a little bit late getting to the ground, and it was almost as if we didn't get off the bus for the first 20 minutes, 40 minutes.

"A good start is important. It's important at some point to exert scoreboard pressure but it's also how you are in the game right from the opening exchanges.

"You need to get on to the front foot, win the opening exchanges and get into the game.

"If we do that as a forward pack, then the likes of Bundee (Aki) and Jacob (Stockdale) can get into it themselves. They're making Six Nations debuts and it becomes a little bit easier if we get them on the front foot.

"It (the delayed bus) was something we should have been more than capable of getting over.

"For whatever reason we were sluggish to start. Look, we can run around and look for excuses, but ultimately we know that we didn't start the game.

"When you look back, we weren't quite as prepared to win a Six Nations game as we thought we were.

"We've got to live in every moment of the game and we can't give away easy moments, easy momentum.

"So look, that is the big thing but at times it is going to feel suffocating, but we've got to make sure we fight our way out of those."

Best declined to comment when asked about his decision to attend the trial of his Ulster team-mates Paddy Jackson and Stuart Olding on Wednesday.

This is his third Six Nations campaign captaining Ireland and he was asked if he felt the same at the outset of this campaign as he did the other two.

He led Ireland to a third-place finish in 2016, while they finished second in last year's tournament.

"I think it's the nerves, the build-up, the Six Nations is a wonderful tournament," he said. "Whenever you go the Shelbourne in Dublin, or when you're away and you get in and get settled... you come to what is a new stadium for some guys, or one that has happy memories, or not so happy memories.

"In terms of captaincy, I like to think I'm a little bit more composed, and a little bit more relaxed about the day, but still you get nervous, the drive here, you have a captain's chat, and you still get nervous about delivering the message that you want to deliver.

"By and large now, the coaches have handed it over and the captain, and the leaders, and the key decision makers, are trying to take that forward."

France captain Guilhem Guirado said his team are determined to put their disastrous 2017 behind them and secure a first win under new coach Brunel.

"The results of the France team must be better," the Toulon hooker said. "They show a collective failure. We are all responsible even if it is complicated to find explanations. But it is in the past, I've rediscovered my smile and my joie de vivre in the past 15 days working with these players."

Irish Independent

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