Sunday 26 May 2019

Under-fire Best proves he is Captain Clever with Haka ploy

LEADING BY EXAMPLE: Ireland’s Rory Best tackled by Jack Goodhue and Liam Squire during Saturday’s test. Pic: Sportsfile
LEADING BY EXAMPLE: Ireland’s Rory Best tackled by Jack Goodhue and Liam Squire during Saturday’s test. Pic: Sportsfile

Rory Best has admitted he had to "block out" criticism and pressure ahead of captaining Ireland to their first win over New Zealand on home soil.

Best conjured a compelling return to form as Ireland stunned the back-to-back world champions 16-9 at a raucous Aviva Stadium.

The 36-year-old hooker devised the strategy of the Ireland squad taking one collective step towards the Haka, to prove the All Blacks could not bully the hosts.

Best regained top form after Ireland's patchy showing in last week's 28-17 win over Argentina, in an authoritative reassertion of his Test captaincy credentials.

Asked to sum up his feelings at receiving a standing ovation when he was substituted late on, Best joked: "I thought that was actually for Tadhg Furlong who came off at the same time. He had an unbelievable day in the scrum!"

Best, speaking seriously, said: "I just felt a little bit rusty in there last week at the line-out, and we were put under a lot of pressure by New Zealand in that area as well.

"So I just had to block a bit of that out, and go about doing what I do well for the team.

"And that's working hard, trying to hit a few things, clean a few rucks and be there whenever the team needed me.

"And if everyone does that and everyone puts their hand up, then generally you get a good team performance."

Best has now had a hand in two unique ploys to neutralise the Haka, the mystic war dance challenge from which New Zealand draw huge inspiration.

The 113-cap front-rower helped devise the figure-eight standing pattern to face the Haka in tribute to the late former Ireland back-rower and Munster coach Anthony 'Axel' Foley before the maiden win over the All Blacks in Chicago.

Best backed up that move before the 40-29 win over New Zealand in the US by concocting Saturday's ruse. The crowd roared its approval and Ireland's President Michael D Higgins wrote a letter of thanks to Best and the Irish team yesterday morning.

Asked to choose which All Blacks win he will cherish more, Chicago or Dublin, Best wouldn't separate them.

"They are both firsts for us, so I wouldn't look at one as better than the other," he said.

"They've been world No.1 for nine years, so we knew it was going to take a big effort.

"It's hard to know what it feels like; you're physically exhausted but mentally ecstatic. It's another little bit of history that this squad has managed for itself."

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