Final Chapter

'We can’t keep thinking, ‘We need to be like 2018.' We need to be better'

Ireland captain Rory Best believes his team can overcome this year’s Six Nations disappointment.

LAST WEEK, RORY BEST was out celebrating his 37th birthday with the rest of the Ireland squad in Portugal as they took a breather from their intense warm-weather training camp to enjoy each other’s company.

This week, matters are that little more serious as Ireland face into their first true test in the build-up to the World Cup, with an imposing England team awaiting them at Twickenham this afternoon [KO 3pm, Sky Sports Action].

We will get a sense of where Ireland stand as they go up against Eddie Jones’ side, who are altogether more battle-hardened after two tough Tests against Wales in recent weeks.

rory-best Rory Best at Ireland's captain's run in Twickenham yesterday. Dan Sheridan / INPHO Dan Sheridan / INPHO / INPHO

As for Best, he is looking forward to getting his first game of the season under his belt as he faces into the final chapter of his playing career, with retirement waiting on the other side of this World Cup.

“One of my challenges before the pre-season was to get through everything, to show I was still physically capable of being here and I came through everything,” says the Ireland captain. “I feel good.

“It’s like everything, you can do all the running and everything, but until you have a white jersey coming at you or not letting you through, that’s when you see where you’re at, but I feel good.

“I struggled a bit at the end of last season just with stuff about ‘ the last home game’, ‘last this’, ‘last the other’ and whatever. It’s not me, I don’t like to be emotionally up and down. I like to be reasonably consistent with the preparation, the emotion around the game.

“Whenever the final whistle comes on the final game, whenever that might be, I’ll worry about that then.”

While Best acknowledges that Sean Cronin, Niall Scannell, and Rob Herring are also vying for World Cup places, he will travel as Ireland’s captain barring a nightmare injury depriving him of that opportunity to head to his fourth tournament.

Befitting his role as the leader, Best concerns himself as much with Ireland collectively as he does his own contributions. In that sense, today feels like a fine opportunity for Joe Schmidt’s team to underline that they are not a spent force.

Players making their first appearances of the season will have some rust but Ireland understand they can gain momentum at Twickenham after a poor 2019 Six Nations that saw them well beaten by the English and Wales.

rory-best Best starts at hooker for Ireland today. Dan Sheridan / INPHO Dan Sheridan / INPHO / INPHO

Best senses a real hunger in the squad around him and he is leaving any pessimism to those on the outside.

“I think everyone is entitled to their opinion but we’re very confident in this group of players. I think the fact it’s been so hard to narrow down – I’d say Joe was looking to go to Portugal with less than 40 players but boys have trained well and put their hand up and made it difficult for him.

“That’s the mark of a great side, it’s not the over-reliance on one or two players. It’s not that long ago, 12 months ago, we were being talked about as the best Irish team there ever was and one of the best teams in the world.

“A few other teams have come to the party now, the way Wales and England have been over the past 12 months. That’s fine, I suppose we’ll know better on Saturday where we are, but in terms of the attitude we’ve shown, I think we’re in a really good place.”

Best echoes his head coach in stressing that being right for the 22 September pool-stage opener against Scotland in Yokohama is the priority now, but getting the ball rolling with a strong performance versus the English today would certainly help towards that.

Ireland are keen now to move on from this year’s disappointing Six Nations, although Best is not convinced that getting back to the form of 2018 is the right way of looking at things.

“I think it feels like the start of the 2019-20 season,” he says. “We can’t keep thinking, ‘We need to be like 2018’.

“We need to be better, we tried to be better in the Six Nations. We got a lot of things wrong along the way but we’ve got to make sure we’re better than we were then. 

“You look back in hindsight and maybe we got the preparation wrong when we were in Portugal at the end of January. It was very much about getting ourselves ready.

rory-best Best is pleased with his pre-season. Dan Sheridan / INPHO Dan Sheridan / INPHO / INPHO

“I think the coaches were pushing us but, as players, we felt a bit tired, thinking, ‘We know we’re good so it will just be a case of getting it right next time leading into the game.’ The way England came at us, we got caught a little bit short in our preparation which is very unlike us. 

“We kind of got that wrong in the Six Nations, we missed our little windows, we were neither on nor off the whole time.

“The great thing about this group is when we’re on, we’re on and when we have time to relax and be off and enjoy each other’s company, we switch off and I think we got that mix a little bit wrong in the Six Nations in terms of we were sort of half-in, half-out.”

Lessons learned, Best plans on Ireland moving on, not looking back to disappointments or successes in the past. Time for a new chapter, and his final one. 

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