Captain's run

Best driving Ireland squad to enjoy the build-up, and get out of rucks clean

Entering the third of four internationals refereed by Jerome Garces, the new Ireland captain has a clear message at the breakdown.

IN MANY WAYS, says Rory Best, these next 24 hours before Ireland kick-off their Six Nations defence at home to Wales are the most difficult.

Best led his team through his fifth international Captain’s Run at the Aviva Stadium today, so training and Carton House are now behind his squad. Replaced by forced rest, pre-match jitters and The Shelbourne.

Rory Best Dan Sheridan / INPHO Dan Sheridan / INPHO / INPHO

While his team-mates can stroll out to the red carpet and take a tight grip around the two nearest sets of shoulders, Best will have duties to fulfill right up until the out-half takes the ball to the halfway line.

“If you get too caught up with the mascots, the anthems, the little break before kick-off, all those are sideshows,” Best said after leading today’s session on Lansdowne Road.

“It’s about that first moment in the game and to make sure we’re ready for that.

“We talk a lot about the mental aspect. The most obvious ones are the physical side, but little bits like that can test you mentally.”

The Ulster and Ireland skipper’s advice in that situation is consciously step back and take stock of where you stand and your next goal. On Saturday afternoon, the targets will be around getting calories into their body, making sure muscles are kept warm and everyone gets a good night’s sleep. Boring, but necessary and not always easy when you’re at the centre of a Six Nations circus in the capital.

“I’ve said it to the boys too: make sure you enjoy the next 24 hours. Because when you’re in this environment, it’s almost like the worst 24 hours because all you want is to play the game.

But when you’re outside looking in, build-up to internationals, the nerves and the butterflies are the things you miss.

“Speaking to my brother (Simon, who also captained Ireland), when he retired that’s the thing he missed. You don’t miss going out in the wind and rain at Carton House on a Monday and Tuesday morning. You miss this, the day before the international, being in the city, the build-up around it.

“To be involved in that and to be captain of that side, it’s important that you live the moment enough to enjoy that little window.”

Come kick-off, those little window of opportunities will become smaller, but professional international players can perversely be more comfortable in that white heat of battle. Best insists he is not speaking to the squad any more than usual. He’s not changing his game, he will continue to lead by deed as he has always done.

“My philosophy as captain is to lead by example, speak when you need to. But at this level if you’ve to hold people’s hand you’re going to struggle.

Simon Zebo with James Cronin Dan Sheridan / INPHO Dan Sheridan / INPHO / INPHO

“Six Nations is an unbelievable competition and you need guys who are going to be able to coach themselves around the pitch. Every now and again, just a quiet word in an ear or to the collective makes sure everyone’s on the right course.”

Those words may be quiet, but they will be forceful and most of them will centre around Ireland’s approach at the breakdown.

Best is a ruck specialist, but Wales have come armed and prepared to combat him with both of their frontline opensides, captain Sam Warburton and Justin Tipuric named in the starting back row.

With eight international forwards ruled out through injury, Ireland know they can’t rely on brute force, they must take a smart approach to taking down Wales, smarter than the World Cup meetings with Italy and Argentina – the last two times they have been refereed by Jerome Garces.

The Ireland team before the team photo Dan Sheridan / INPHO Dan Sheridan / INPHO / INPHO

“Discipline is big for us. It’s something that we base a lot of our game on. Around the breakdown especially we’ve got to make sure we roll away.

“We’ve talked a lot about it – ‘tackler, get out’.

“Don’t make the tackle and stand up there, don’t make the tackle and lie there. We have to make the tackle, get out, and then it becomes a contest.

“We have some good guys over the ball and we feel we kind of know what (Garces) is looking for there and we hope to give him the good pictures.”

Do that, and enjoying the 24 hours post-match will be much easier.

Ability, attitude… and the next Shane Williams? The Welsh perspective on the Six Nations

13 things you won’t be able to sidestep this Six Nations weekend

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