Best: Pressure will help us
Ireland’s standout hooker says side must get it right from start to shock France
IRELAND hooker Rory Best never has trouble filling the space between his loosehead and tighthead props, whether it’s for club or country.
It is a measure of his evolution as a rugby player that he was detailed to be the man on Tommy Bowe’s shoulder in the open space for Ireland’s first try against Wales at the Aviva Stadium last weekend.
“It was something that we had worked on, trying to get to fill the field a wee bit more in attack and try to give us options right across,” said Best. “I don’t get many either for Ulster or Ireland. It is just a pity it wasn’t quite enough.
“With the defences being so tight in close now, we want to try to make defences fan out to try to find the softer shoulders. If they don’t respect you out wide, you go there.
“If they respect you too much there, you go through the middle. It spreads everything out. What comes with that is the breakdown. We have to be really clinical there with our first two people in.”
The beauty of international rugby is that you have to be first-class in every detail of the game or you get punished. The French have picked a number of lineout masters in a ploy to take away Ireland’s best basis of attack.
“The mauling side of things is a weapon we still want to use,” added Best. “We didn’t get to use it on Sunday because we only had three conventional lineouts. At one stage, Trimby (Andrew Trimble) had thrown into more lineouts than I had.
“It is now a case of staying ahead of the defences. It is vital. If you can ‘nil’ a team, you go a long way towards winning a game. We are trying to figure out how to break down strong defences.”
It wasn’t all that long ago that Best was viewed as verging towards a journeyman international, forever attached to the replacements bench for Ireland while Munster’s Jerry Flannery wreaked havoc in that unmistakable all-action style of his.
How that has changed. Best has, arguably, developed into a match for William Servat as the best hooker in Europe. He was the form number two at the World Cup. No argument.
The man from Poyntzpass, still just 29, has managed this transformation by dedicating himself to reshaping his body and his game. He was made in the traditional mould, a stiff scrummager, a nuts and bolts fixer in the tight. That was the base he worked from to develop into an all-round hooker, equally adept at the ruck as in the scrum, channelling his energy into broadening his skills set to not look out of place out wide.
Ireland cannot afford to start as they did against Wales, standing-off as a tidal wave of possession and bodies came their way. If they start slow in Paris, they will suffer as so many have before them.
“We couldn’t find our feet. We couldn’t get into the game. After 20 minutes or so, we started to play our way into it,” admitted Best. “There is a little bit of hurt and the feeling in the changing room (last Sunday) you need to take into Saturday. We are all used to playing in short, intense tournaments. The European Cup is a prime example of it where, regardless of what happens one week, the next week you have to park it and move on.
“That is one of the good things about having France this week. We know that the pressure is on. We have to learn from the mistakes because it is a very exciting proposition to go to Paris and do something that hasn’t been done in what must be the 12th season.” There are barriers to be broken. Ireland have not beaten France away in the Six Nations since Brian O’Driscoll’s hattrick in 2000. Before that, you have to trawl all the way back to tries from scrum-half Johnny Moloney and prop Ray McLoughlin at Stade Colombes in 1972.
“We can’t do our usual and be 20 points down after 20 minutes. We know that we have to keep a hold of the ball. We need to get it and keep it,” insisted Best.
“When we kick, our kick-chase has to be very good. The France counterattack is some of the best in the world. We can’t leave mismatches in the midfield where you are expecting front five forwards to deal 10 metres either side of them with (Julian) Malzieu and these boys.
“We need to go there and attack them. But, we also have to play quite smart in that we can’t give them the opportunities which they want, which are turnovers and counter-attacks. “Off set-plays, they are dangerous too. But, you look back at the game last weekend, they are very, very dangerous off broken play. We have to be on the money.
“We can’t get carried away with what they are doing. It is all about implementing our game plan. We want to play a quick-tempo game anyway. But we can’t let it get too loose.”
He is not interested in pointing the finger at English referee Wayne Barnes for Sunday’s decision to yellow card Stephen Ferris for a tackle which an Independent Disciplinary Committee found didn’t warrant a suspension at the citing hearing last Wednesday.
“Once you start to feel grievance and start to blame the referee, you’ll never get over it,” he said. “We know ourselves we had opportunities. We didn’t take them. We let them back in a little softly in the way they marched us up-field to get into position to score. “The referee’s decision is one thing. From a player’s point of view, we know there are certain things we could have done differently.”
It is no co-incidence that with experience and an increased leadership role within the Ireland squad, all aspects of his game have improved, to the extent that he is now the complete hooker. For the test hooker on the 2013 British & Irish Lions tour to Australia, look no further than this Best man.
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