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Rory Best: We need to develop that ruthless Leinster mentality

The Ulster and Ireland hooker talks about the upcoming season, Irish rugby and finding more ‘freaks’ like Stephen Ferris.

Image: ©INPHO/Cathal Noonan

ON THE MORNING of 19 May this year, Rory Best and Ulster were having a season to remember.

Later that afternoon, Best and his teammates applauded the victorious Leinster team as they raised the Heineken Cup for the second season in a row.

The 42-14 scoreline from that final in Twickenham should by no means diminish the huge strides that the province made under coach Brian McLaughlin that season.

The rugby continued for Best, and seven other Ulster players, as they travelled south with Ireland for a three-Test tour of New Zealand.

Three defeats, two of them heavy, took more wind out of Irish rugby’s golden starred sails and Best reflected on a gulf in class as he stood beneath the stands at Waikato Stadium following the 60-0 All Black whitewash.

TheScore.ie caught up with the 62-times capped hooker at Ravenhill to talk about the success and failures, domestically, Heineken Cup-ly and internationally, last season and the promise of a fresh campaign.

Does Waikato Stadium feel like a distant, bad memory at this stage?

It would be foolish to completely forget about it. There are, certainly, elements of it that you have to put out of your mind. It has to be a new season, new start. But, at the same time, the hurt that we felt after that game – we have to use that to ask ‘How can we stop it happening again?’, or ‘What do we need to ultimately be as ruthless as they were?’.

There’s no doubt that the Second Test (when Ireland lost to a last-minute Dan Carter drop goal), and bits of the First Test showed that there’s not a massive gap. But the way they they finished the Third Test … if Ireland had’ve been 14 or 20 points up after 10 or 20 minutes, would we have pushed on and got 60? Maybe not. We would have pushed on and maybe won the game comfortably but it is getting that mentality that every time, every one of us wants to be ruthless.

It is a hard mentality to get but, certainly, Irish rugby teams, not just the national team – Leinster have it – but the rest of us need to get it.

Rob Kearney touched on the physicality of the All Blacks, but every AB seems to be able to off-load in the tackle. Is this something that Irish players can be coached?

It is something that is being addressed within Ireland but you can’t wait until somebody is 18 or 20 and then teach them these core skills. Obviously, with the genetics and the size of (the All Blacks), they seem to have a few more freaks like (Stephen) Ferris than we do. But they are core skills and, for them, it comes from running around with a rugby ball from when they are knee high. That is what we are starting to get now. There is no doubt that that emphasis now is being put into the grass-roots.

Aaron Cruden (5ft 9in) successfully offloads in the tackle. (©INPHO/Billy Stickland)

The more we can put it in, and the emphasis doesn’t just need to be on the players, it needs to be with the volunteers and coaches. Giving them the best opportunities to be as good a coach as they can be at whatever level they happen to be at.

How would you rate that long season in the green of Ireland?

The way we ended all of our campaigns took the gloss off it really.

We had a great World Cup. We were the first Irish team to top our group; first Irish team to beat a Southern Hemisphere team in the World Cup; all of that. And then we just didn’t perform against Wales so we ended that World Cup on a sour note.

Six Nations – we should have beaten France away again. We had a strong performance against Scotland with a couple of injuries and then finished it poorly against England. Everyone remembers that Six Nations being the bomb because we got stuffed by England.

With the tour, we should have won that Second Test. We played some of the best rugby an Irish team has played, certainly on tour. We finished it, obviously, very, very poorly so it is remembered as a poor Irish season. But, when you look back at it, we had a couple of memorable results.

Looking back now, would you say it was a good season for the Irish provinces?

To have two teams in the Heineken Cup Final was massive for Irish rugby and the country. Hopefully, in the coming years, that can be transferred a bit onto the national team.

Lads like Declan Fitzpatrick and Dan Tuohy got decent run-outs in New Zealand. That must stand to Ulster and Ireland now?

If you look at the team that took to the field in the Second Test, everyone said it was only a matter of time before we were all getting old, all about to go at one time. If you look at it, and you don’t believe every thing you hear, with the front-row you have Cian Healy – he’s only a child – and Declan Fitzpatrick came in. He is a bit older but, in terms of rugby, there’s not a lot of miles on the clock.

Fitzpatrick (29) and Healy (24) pack down with 30-year-old Best in New Zealand. (©INPHO/Billy Stickland)

Dan and Donnacha Ryan are both young in (the second-row) and in the back-row you have Stevie, Sean O’Brien and Jamie Heaslip. They are all 28 and under. Then you have Conor Murray, who is young, and (Jonny) Sexton is relatively young. (Keith) Earls, Tommy (Bowe), (Rob) Kearney, Luke (Fitzgerald), (Craig) Gilroy, (Andrew) Trimble.

These guys all have at least another World Cup in them. They’ll all be there in England. To say this Irish team is aging is not very fair. This team has evolved very gradually and there hasn’t been a season where they’ve said ‘Right, everyone’s out’. There’s a lot to be said for that too.

Did you watch much of the Olympics?

Being a bit of a sports fanatic, I really enjoyed it but when it was over there’s a bit of a void.

*Not to worry Rory, Ulster play Glasgow Warriors in the RaboDirect Pro12 on Friday, 31 August at Ravenhill.

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About the author:

Patrick McCarry

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