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'The biggest highlight of my career': Best joins O'Driscoll and Mullen in Ireland's elite club

Ireland captain says this team are ‘greedy’ and want to build on the Grand Slam win.

RORY BEST COULDN’T hide his pride and raw emotion out on the pitch and in the press conference room at Twickenham after joining Brian O’Driscoll and Karl Mullen in the elite club of captaining Ireland to Grand Slam glory.

Rory Best celebrates winning with his children Ben and Penny The Ireland captain with his children Ben and Penny. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

With his wife and two young children by his side, Best soaked up and savoured the moment having played a colossal role in Ireland’s raid of England’s citadel, with Joe Schmidt’s side becoming just the third Irish team to achieve the feat of a clean sweep, emulating their 1948 and 2009 counterparts.

Lifting the Six Nations trophy aloft on St Patrick’s Day of all days, at this stadium of all stadiums, ranks as the ‘biggest highlight’ of Best’s career, who is now Ireland’s most decorated captain.

Two Grand Slams, four Six Nations, victory over the All Blacks and a Test win over South Africa in their own back yard — the 35-year-old shows no signs of slowing down.

His role should not be underestimated even if Ireland’s lineout wobbled at times and his overall impact during the championship wasn’t as eye-catching as some of those around him.

Best and Rob Kearney are the only two surviving members from the Grand Slam-winning squad in 2009. That in itself says a lot.

“For me personally, it’s a little bit more special [than 2009],” the hooker said.

“Not only starting every game but captaining the side. Every kid grows up dreaming of playing for Ireland and when you do that the next thing you want to do is win something for Ireland.

“To win something as captain in that special green jersey, it’s something that dreams are made of.

“It’s up there as the biggest highlight of my career. To do it with this bunch of players and staff, it’s a really tight-knit group. I know a lot of teams say that if they do well or win games but it’s a special bunch.”

12 straight Test victories now, unbeaten in a year.

Schmidt’s side have been ruthless and utterly clinical in everything they have done during this championship, and the enormity of the achievement is magnified when you consider only twice before have Ireland come back from Paris and London with victories in the same season.

Ireland's Rory Best celebrates winning the grand slam The 35-year-old lifts the Six Nations trophy. Source: Bryan Keane/INPHO

Best, like his head coach, points to the injection of youth as a key factor in Ireland’s record-breaking run, with several of the squad — Stockdale, Larmour and Ryan to name a few — yet to taste defeat in the Six Nations.

“I think we knew that we had to target the first game and then go one game at a time after that,” he continued.

“You look at the fine margins and after 75 minutes we looked dead and buried in Paris having controlled a game that we should have already won. Those are the little moments.

“It’s reflective of how much we know the effort that went in and how special that kick from Johnny was. We tried to ensure that magic moments like that don’t go unrewarded and reward came this afternoon with that win.”

And Best firmly believes this class of 2018 has the potential to build on a Grand Slam win and propel Irish rugby to new, rarefied heights.

“I think it really depends,” he added, when asked where this team can go.

“We’re really happy with today. We wanted a Grand Slam and I think we’ll look beyond that at a later date.

“It all depends on how we kick on. The way the younger players have come in, and not just fitted in, but wanting to keep getting better. As long as they keep that mentality and the guys who are a bit more experienced keep that want to keep going forward, that’s all you can ask.

“We’ll not know until our next go in the green jersey but knowing the group, this is what we wanted but we’ll always want more because we’re competitive and we’re a little bit greedy.”

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‘We fear no team in the world and we’ve proven on our day we can compete with the best’

The day of days – 20 pictures from Ireland’s Grand Slam celebrations

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Ryan Bailey

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