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Best hopes 'hilarious' Farrell doesn't lose element of fun as he steps into Schmidt's shoes

The former Ireland captain has explained how the incoming head coach likes to bring some comedy to his video review sessions.

Rory Best and Andy Farrell during an Ireland press conference.
Rory Best and Andy Farrell during an Ireland press conference.

WHEN WE THINK of the Ireland rugby camp, the mind doesn’t generally jump towards thoughts of fun and laughter. And certainly not within the confines of the team meeting room.

Much of what went on behind the scenes at Ireland’s Carton House base remained something of a mystery during the Joe Schmidt era. The odd tale of a heated meeting or intense review session might spill out occasionally, and the picture painted tended to be one of intense focus.

With that in mind, on face value it was not surprising to hear recently retired Ireland captain Rory Best describe the tension that would grip the room while the players waited for defence coach Andy Farrell to begin his video presentations. 

Yet as Best explains, that fear was not based on any potential rollicking. 

“He [Farrell] used to go through social media and pick out ads that people did,” Best says.

“He pulled out one from Rob Kearney with Newbridge from I don’t know how long ago, and the other one was he loved was John Cooney’s ‘Trick-shot Tuesday’ with a car company. He would almost do a commentary over the top of it, and he just has a way, he’s an incredibly funny person, sometimes without even meaning to be. You’d be sitting there at the start of a meeting and you would know that he is leading into something that he has a clip of that he can’t wait to show you, and you’re just thinking ‘Please not one of my ads,’ because no matter how good you think the ad is he will make it look [stupid].”

Of course, when Farrell next takes a team meeting he will be doing so with more authority, with the former rugby league player stepping into Schmidt’s shoes following Ireland’s World Cup quarter-final exit. 

Best, having retired following the World Cup, won’t be around to witness the changing of the guard, but hopes Farrell will continue to keep that light-hearted element in an environment that seems to have suffocated under the pressure to perform over the past 12 months.

“If that’s the first thing Faz does, everyone laughs, it breaks the tension and then you are ready to take it in. His presentation skills are incredible,” Best continues.

“He’s a big character. He’s a fun person to be around, his presentations are hilarious, and I think they’ve [the IRFU] done the best thing for Irish rugby in that they’ve kept a little bit of consistency of the performance. I think that when you can achieve this [run of success] with a group of players and a group of coaches, it’s madness to go ‘Right, new coach in, everyone else clear off,’ but also they are getting a change in there. And I think that’s a good thing, regardless of what happened.

ambassador-rory-best-launches-specsavers-audiologists-grandparent-of-the-year-2019-award Rory Best is pictured with his children Ben (9), Penny (7) and Richie (4) alongside their grandfather John. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

“If Joe would have done another four years, to mix up the backroom staff a bit, like England do, is no bad thing, because it’s nice to hear a difference voice every now and again, and it doesn’t matter where that comes from, but with Joe leaving it’s opened that space up. So Andy will bring a little bit of consistency in terms of some things will be the same, the players will know him, but they’ll also know that it’s different too. Mike Catt will come in and he’ll have different ideas that will fit within the parameters of what Faz wants to do.”

Ireland will move into a new era when Farrell holds his first camp as head coach at the IRFU’s new High Performance Centre this month, yet the past still looms large over the current squad. 

It is less than two months since Ireland crashed out of the World Cup with a 46-14 thrashing by New Zealand. The scars are still raw.

Best has managed to sidestep most of the fallout, his mini farewell tour with the Barbarians providing some much needed levity in a period which could have otherwise tormented him. As the squad’s 37-year-old captain he entered the World Cup under intense scrutiny, yet was far from the worst offender in a team that under-performed on this biggest stage.

The hooker has turned down offers from a number of clubs, including Pat Lam’s Bristol, in recent weeks, but is comfortable with his decision to walk away. 

Yet one element of his final year will continue to play on his mind as he prepares for his first winter off in over 15 years.

“We had a fairly frank discussion after the England game in the summer, but really that discussion should have been had before the Six Nations started, a bit of a ‘Right, what can we do to be better?’ Rather than ‘Let’s just make sure we keep doing what we are doing,’ or certainly after the England game or in those mini camps or something,” Best says.

irelands-rory-best-at-the-end-of-the-match Best following Ireland's World Cup defeat to New Zealand.

“And look, that’s something that I feel responsible for. We talk a lot about this leadership group, and there is a lot of great leaders in it, and I do think we did a lot of good things, but I just don’t think that we picked up the warning signs quick enough.

“Unfortunately for me it is too late, but you know that leadership group is going to learn from that. If they feel anything [going forward], that you have to have trust in your coach, but also with that trust comes the ability to go ‘You know what, we feel this isn’t right,’ and then have a conversation about it. Whereas we probably had so much trust in Joe that there was almost a feeling of ‘Well if he says it’s right, it’s right,’ without even questioning it. And a lot of the time you’ll question it, Joe will tell you why and you’ll go ‘Well that makes sense, because he is class.’” 

Best also admitted that the achievements of 2018, where the squad claimed a Grand Slam, won a summer series in Australia and beat New Zealand in Dublin, led to a dip in how the players prepared for games.

“There was a feeling where when we turned up and we prepared, I think we underestimated how much the preparation got the result. And I think there was almost a feeling of no matter who we play here, we beat them. And we kind of forgot that that happens because of the extra stuff we are doing in and around our training and our preparation, and I think we were 1% down maybe on that.

“I’m picking numbers out of the air but 1% down, when you put that across 31 players at a World Cup, and put that across [with the fact] you are also now seen as a contender, so people are at least going to be at least 1% better [against you], and the swing can actually end up being quite big at this level, because you are at the top end of your game.

“I think the easiest thing that we could have done as a player group was step into the latter part of the week and actually have been a bit more organised and been a bit more consistent with that. I think after the England game [in the summer] we sort of said ‘Look, we need room [from] the Captain’s Run into the start of the game to lead. You’ve [Schmidt] given us all the tools to lead from Sunday to Thursday, but allow us to do it.’ 

“I think we did that for a bit and then probably just went ‘Right, we’re rolling again’, and maybe just let that slip a little bit. And Joe senses that, and goes ‘Well my biggest thing is to make sure we’re prepared and I don’t think we’re prepared enough.’

“Whether he is right or wrong, he has to go by his gut, and then he would step back into that space again and it would become another challenge for that area. I think we should have been better in that area and I should have been better in that area, and should have been better to go ‘Listen Joe, it’s under control, don’t worry about it.’” 

Rugby player Rory Best is an ambassador for Specsavers Audiologists’ Grandparent of the Year 2019 Award, celebrating the extraordinary contribution that grandparents make to the lives of grandchildren and the community. For more information visit www.specsavers.ie/hearing/grandparent

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