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Dublin: 19 °C Tuesday 4 August, 2020

Confidence, cool heads and delegation key as Best leads Ireland in Japan

The Ireland skipper will be sure to rely on his vice-captains to push the team to their limit.

Image: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

ONE LAST TOUR of duty then.

One last stint wearing team-ordered attire. A few more weeks of being a professional rugby player, a couple of dozen more live scrums, maybe less than 200 rucks. Line-outs, Tests, tackles and time on the ball.  All the dials are counting down for Rory Best along with the altimeter for his flight to Tokyo.

Confidence is on the up though, after wins over Wales steadied the ship and the nation’s trust in the line-out in tandem. Best also feels he has improved how he manages his own mental approach to these final furlongs. That list of ‘lasts’ has be preceded by plenty of qualified terminus; last home game, last for Ulster, last in Ravenhill, last Six Nations and on the landmarks went.

They have all carried an emotional weight and, for Best, they were worth lifting out of the way. He knows the mental path through them now.

“Last year I struggled with it at the end of the Six Nations. This emotional rollercoaster, you go up and down,” Best said as he launched Specsavers’ don’t suffer in silence campaign to heighten awareness to hearing loss.

“(After winning against France) went into the Wales game and wasn’t quite where I needed to be. Because you’re just so emotionally drained. And probably the same thing happened at the end of Ulster’s season. You kind of get this (sense) ‘I don’t really deal well with it’.

“So for me it’s preparation, going to Wales after the England game, chatted with Joe and he said there were aspects of the game he was happy with…”

We’ll cut the captain off there, because he has been over this ground since the loss in Twickenham. The line-out is about more than the throw and so is his game. Joe Schmidt was moved to highlight a host of positive involvements away from the set-piece.

“So you get confidence from him,” continues the hooker, “I know when I’m right and there is a level of emotion I like to play with. I don’t necessarily show it.

“This time around, it was only after the game that I really allowed it to hit me. That way you’re not building your performance on the emotion, you’re building it on what you always do And afterwards you let the emotion take it.

“Then it becomes about preparation and performing.”

As captain, the hooker will take it upon himself to help every player be prepared to perform and find their own way to bypass or channel emotions into their game.

Best’s style of leadership can come across as an oddly quiet approach. He always speaks in measured, but extremely meaningful, tones. He strives to be aware of what state the players around him are in during the build-up to these era-defining fixtures ahead and between himself, vice-captains Peter O’Mahony and Johnny Sexton and other senior players, they work to strike the balance.

“Ultimately, if you go into a match and you get it technically wrong the coach will hold his hand up,” says the Poytnzpass man, “that emotional side of it comes on the day and in the lead-up to the game and that is your captain, your vice captain and your senior players. They are the ones that are kind of holding that thermometer to make sure it’s right.

It’s not just getting yourself individually to point, you’ve got to make sure that everyone’s there. Everyone is very different and it’s an interesting balancing act sometimes.”

Think of inspirational speeches in rugby and the memory of Paul O’Connell’s guttural demands within a Croke Park dressing room in 2007 will soon bubble up.

Best’s style in the helm has always taken a different guise, a series of course corrections along the way rather than heaving a team into an about turn. At the same time, he brings all hands on deck.

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“Paulie had this ability to just stir something inside you a lot of the time and if you take that on yourself there is a lot of pressure to always come up with something… Paulie was incredible at it, but just because it was his way doesn’t necessarily mean that I have to be the same.

“You learn a little bit from him and I learned a little bit from Drico, from Johann Muller when he was at Ulster but ultimately you have to put your own stamp on it and my own stamp has always been to make sure that when you have people like Pete and Johnny in there.

“It’s madness sometimes to try and run everything yourself.”

rory-best Rory Best is encouraging people to be extra mindful of family and friends who might be struggling with their hearing, in his role as Specsavers Audiologists’ ambassador. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Best adds: “When you first become captain, I think that’s what I felt, ‘Paulie would have done this and Paulie would have done that’. It’s hard not to compare yourself.

“I felt like I did need to speak last. Then you learn to relax a little bit and realise that the more you speak, it can be detrimental and it can get diluted. You’ve just got to have that confidence to go, ‘I know that Johnny and Pete are around and whatever they say is worded differently but roughly along the lines of what I’d like’ – you just let them to it. 

I think we have a nice little cross-section of leaders. The way [I deliver] is slightly different to Johnny, and Johnny is different to Pete. And then Earlsy, who doesn’t say much but when he does everyone stands and listens.”

“We do make sure that we are aligned at the start of the week. There will be people who respond better to what Johnny says, there will be people who respond better to me, to Pete.

“As long as you get the best out of everyone, I don’t care whose mouth it comes out of really.”

Of course, before Best can set about getting the optimum out of his team, the 37-year-old must ensure he is a part of the XV by maintaining his own levels of performance. The graph has been steadily rising since Twickenham and Best is confident that he will – for this one last run of fixtures – be in prime condition to lead by word and deed.

“My thing has always been, ‘Get yourself right’.

“Ultimately, people follow your actions, not necessarily always your words.”

With the warm-up games out of the way, Murray, Bernard and Gavan discuss the renewed cause for optimism, impressive individual player form, and a potential quarter-final versus either South Africa or New Zealand.

Source: The42 Rugby Weekly/SoundCloud

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About the author:

Sean Farrell

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