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Saturday 25 January 2020

'Joe needed to trust us more at World Cup'

19 October 2019; Rory Best of Ireland goes to meet his family after the 2019 Rugby World Cup Quarter-Final match between New Zealand and Ireland at the Tokyo Stadium in Chofu, Japan. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
19 October 2019; Rory Best of Ireland goes to meet his family after the 2019 Rugby World Cup Quarter-Final match between New Zealand and Ireland at the Tokyo Stadium in Chofu, Japan. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

It was always going to fall on the first player out of the system to provide the country with a true insight into why Ireland failed at the World Cup.

Step forward Rory Best.

Never a man to rock the boat before he brought the curtain down on his career following the quarter-final defeat to New Zealand, Best offered a scathing assessment of his own and, more importantly, Ireland's shortcomings.

Joe Schmidt might have choked on his cornflakes this morning as he read through his captain's take on how the head coach went against the players' wishes of overloading them with too much information in game weeks.

Then there was the criticism of the training camps in Portugal, the lack of changes for the shocking loss to Japan, and also how the squad became too complacent after sweeping all before them in 2018.

It's easy for Best to be so frank now that he has sailed off into the sunset and while he did acknowledge that hindsight was great, he should be commended for being so honest.

"Looking back, I do think a very, very small level of complacency has to have kicked in," Best began.

"You don't go from 2018 to 2019 without that happening. It might only be one percent from each player but add all that up over 30-odd players at that level can make a big difference."

The biggest revelation of all was Best recounting how Schmidt refused to relinquish control to the leadership player group in the quarter-final week. All through 2018 he had done so, before the pressure of the World Cup year took over.

Best admits that, as captain, he should have done more to stop it, but such was the level of trust he and his team-mates had in Schmidt, they took a back seat, which is a major regret.

"We started to become, not dictated to, but we just let Joe do everything," Best insists.

"But the great thing about 2018 was we had our own voice, our own mind. We had that freedom at the end of the week to step into the space to lead.

"In '19, that end of the week space was starting to be filled a bit much with coaches. At the end of that England defeat, we sat down with Joe and said 'We trust you implicitly, we know you'll get the tactics right, but on the flip side, you're going to have to trust us that from captain's run onwards, let us build in our own way.'

Enough

"I think we didn't do enough to fill it, and me as captain, ultimately, I've to take a fair bit of responsibility. Were we just happy enough to go 'We know how good Joe is, and if he says it's right. We didn't challenge him."

Come the All Blacks week, the pressure boiled over as Schmidt attempted to ensure nothing went wrong. As Best describes it, that approach was over the top, which perhaps explains why Ireland were shell-shocked during the game.

"The morning of the New Zealand game, whatever happened, the coaches wanted a huddle and to go over some plays. I think there was a little worry at that stage that we hadn't emphasised something enough.

"We ended up having one before that England game where we talked about the threat of Ben Youngs, and all that happened was we talked about the threat, but everyone got so hyped up, and Ben Youngs made I don't know how many line-breaks just by scooting. Exactly what we talked about.

"I felt that probably happened the morning of the New Zealand game.

"Everyone was a little bit... too much detail and probably too much tension. Joe just needed to trust us. He's the best coach I've ever worked with bar nobody, but just trust that it's there. It was a big game for him, such a big game for me.

"You want to make sure no stone is left unturned, sometimes by doing that and you end up spoon-feeding the players and they go 'Right, okay, that's been said, so that's good enough, I don't need to mentally prepare for it."

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