Tuesday 23 July 2019

'We went in '07 saying 'we'll be fine when we get there', well we won't be' - Rory Best insists Ireland must iron out creases before World Cup

‘If close to the World Cup the penny drops with Schmidt that the captain is no longer first choice, then days like this will be seen to have been wasted.’ Photo: Sportsfile
‘If close to the World Cup the penny drops with Schmidt that the captain is no longer first choice, then days like this will be seen to have been wasted.’ Photo: Sportsfile
Cian Tracey

Cian Tracey

Having seen it all before, in three World Cups, Rory Best is at the stage now where every little detail matters as he prepares for his swansong in Japan.

Plenty of lessons have been learned since the disastrous 2007 campaign, but talk is cheap and no one knows that better than the Ireland captain.

After blitzing all who came before them last season, Joe Schmidt's side often played as if they had the weight of the world on their shoulders this year.

Ultimately, they never recovered from being left "broken" by England, as Schmidt put it, and that was something that was also felt by the players.

"Yeah, it did and then we went to Scotland and didn't really fire the way we would have liked to," Best admits. 

"I think we play best when we enjoy our rugby – bring physicality, but ultimately we enjoy it and we get fired in.

"You look at the Grand Slam in 2018, everyone looked like they were enjoying their rugby.

"It comes with winning to an extent, but you get to a point, yes, you're winning but the more you win, the more pressure there is and we looked like we were enjoying the pressure.

"But at the end of the thing (Six Nations), it looked like the pressure was almost too much for us, but it isn't the case when you look at the big-game players we have."

Best is quick to dismiss the comparisons with the build-up to the 2007 World Cup, but he does point to the fact that the Ireland players cannot expect the creases to be ironed out before they arrive in Japan unless they put it right themselves over the coming couple of months.

"We've got to address it," he continues.

"There's no point going, 'oh, sure it'll be right when we get to Japan' because if you have that attitude, like 2007, that's when you come unstuck.

"I've heard a couple of players who played then saying, 'there are a lot of similarities to it' but in my eyes there isn't because we now know we can't just reproduce what we've produced.

"We kind of went in '07 saying, 'we'll be fine when we get there,' well, we won't be. Hopefully we will be, but we can't have that attitude. We've got to look at why and how and be big about it."

Given Ireland's struggles for form this year, the World Cup warm-up games take on even greater significance than they ordinarily might have.

Despite the fact that they are ultimately non-competitive games, Best is adamant that the four clashes – two against Wales and one each against England and Italy – can help Ireland rediscover their mojo.

"Those games traditionally don't have as much intensity about them, unless you're a team looking to make a point.

"It was 2015 when England beat the crap out of us. In fact, it was 2011 as well because we had stopped them getting a Grand Slam and they came to the Aviva and beat the crap out of us.

"You can generate intensity, if you've a point to prove, like we have. We need to find a bit of form, we need to find a bit of intensity. We've got to see how we prepare."

Like Schmidt, Best will bow out after the World Cup as he brings the curtain down on a fine career that has seen plenty of ups and downs.

There is, however, a sense of unfinished business and the 36-year-old believes the Kiwi is determined to cement his legacy as the greatest Ireland head coach of all time.

"I have no doubt that was part of Joe's thinking for staying on," Best adds.

"Sure, after the last World Cup, he maybe contemplated not going through until the next one.

"But I know that it probably grinds him a bit that he has created history everywhere else, except he's just another coach who has gotten us to a quarter-final, if you like."

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