Wednesday 1 February 2023 Dublin: 7°C
©INPHO/Morgan Treacy Best [second from right] was superb for Ireland in victory over Wales.
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Ireland’s Best is good enough to exert ‘physical dominance’ over Wales
The Ulster hooker explains how Joe Schmidt’s training methods are making the national team more adaptable.

TWO SIX NATIONS wins and two demonstrations that this Ireland squad may be capable of changing their approach to suit the specific needs of each game.

While the win over Scotland was not free-flowing by any means, there were positive signs in an attacking sense for the tries finished by Andrew Trimble and Rob Kearney; multi-phase, accurate handling and efficient rucking. Against Wales, the kicking and chasing games of Joe Schmidt’s men were more to the fore.

It all adds up to an encouraging opening two weekends to the competition and gives the sense that Ireland may well have the tools to adapt their game to the demands of playing England when the Six Nations resumes. Hooker Rory Best believes that Schmidt’s coaching methods have brought about rapid development in Ireland’s ability to shift approaches in game plan.

I suppose when you’ve halfbacks like Conor [Murray] and Jonny [Sexton], then Paulie [O'Connell] driving things in the forwards, you can be adaptable. It comes back to the pressure Joe has put on us. He throw things at us that we hadn’t talked about in the team meeting.

“He throws different plays at us, different challenges to be mentally tuned in and to be adaptable, so that you come to these games and, depending on what you see or foresee as the team’s strengths and weaknesses, you can go out and exploit that.

“It’s not a bad trait to have, as long as you remain accurate. You want to make sure that you don’t have so many plays that you can’t do any of them well. We need to be able to do every play that we pull out of the bag really, really well.”

That looks to be the case so far as Ireland have gone about exploiting those opposition weaknesses. There is a long way to go though, meaning Best and his teammates will not be getting ahead of themselves. Continuing hard work will be essential, particularly if Ireland want to build on the strengths they have shown so far.

imageIreland’s maul motoring forward against the Welsh. ©INPHO/Colm O’Neill.

One of those against the Welsh was their breakdown work, where Best and Peter O’Mahony led the charge.

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“We knew that especially with the Welsh back row, the breakdown was going to be massive. We saw Faletau and Warburton last week really destroy the Italian breakdown at times and we knew they were going to be big threats.

“We really went after that to make sure that we could exert some dominance, especially physical dominance. I think in large parts we did and we sort of silenced their very dangerous back row, which is what we talked about doing.”

For the second week in a row, Ireland’s maul was clearly on top too, leading to Chris Henry’s try in a similar manner to the move that allowed Jamie Heaslip to touch down against Scotland. John Plumtree’s astute work in that area has been important, but Best points out that the provincial foundations are strong too.

I think the way our maul has been going the last three games has been good. We built on it even at the start of the Autumn, against Samoa we mauled them. It’s been a big work-on for us. Again, you look at the way the provinces go; Munster maul everyone, Ulster have started bringing it to the game and Leinster score vital tries there. It can be a real strong point if you can get it right.

“We’ve worked hard on it, it’s something we felt that we could have been a lot better on. To have scored with it in two games is very encouraging, but it’s definitely something where teams are now going to look at Ireland and realise that we’re a lot better at mauling.

“Definitely when you work on little bits and pieces, little shift-drives, on the training ground and it comes off for a vital try, it’s very encouraging.”

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