DUBLIN — Ireland captain Rory Best had a testing start to the week as the team dealt with the disappointment of being out of the title race with a game to spare.
But they have an unwavering motivation to put in a consistent 80 minute performance and perform in front of the home crowd on St Patrick’s weekend.
You sensed Best was nursing some physical and mental scars as he sat facing the press on Friday. This was meant to the championship where Ireland built on their promising November performances to halt Eddie Jones’ marauding juggernaut, and take back northern hemisphere supremacy.
But instead, as they prepare for the final match of the tournament, their motivation is to beat old rivals England, in what is in effect a one-off Test for Joe Schmidt’s men with no silverware on the line.
Best admitted the team had a “very tough” start to the week; the mental pain had been nursed while his face showed the toil of last Friday’s defeat to Wales with a battle wound underneath his right eye.
Ireland captain Rory Best, left, and CJ Stander at Friday’s captain’s run Brendan Moran/Sportsfile via Getty Images
But the focus was just the same, and with Irish eyes on their team in front of a bumper Aviva Stadium crowd on Saturday, their motivation is not to stop Jones’ team, but to beat them and put pride back in the green jersey.
“We’re well aware of what England are going for tomorrow, but for us I suppose it’s St Paddy’s weekend, we’re at home and we have a very proud record at home as well, and we take huge confidence from that,” Best said.
“So we have focused on how to beat England, we haven’t focused on the reasons why we’ll beat them. We’ll beat England because we’re pulling on a green jersey, because we’re at home and we expect probably a better, more consistent performance over the 80 minutes than we’ve delivered so far in this championship.”
The mood in the Irish camp improved as the week progressed and there will be players with points to prove. Best said each player has a personal responsibility to hit their own optimum performance in terms of accuracy, and leave no ‘what ifs’ out on the Dublin turf.
They have watched back England’s conclusive victory over Scotland and Best says they are ready to face a “ruthless” side, and adds his side will have to be “very, very good defensively” on Saturday.
Dublin has been a fair city to England’s rugby teams. They have played 64 times there against Ireland and won more than they have lost: a rare record for an away team at international level.
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It is down to ex-England coach Andy Farrell to marshal that defence, with particular attention being paid to his son, Owen, who is one of England’s main attacking threats both with ball in hand and from the tee.
Both father and son have dodged any talk of this being a case of Farrell vs. Farrell on Saturday, and Best said the message has been as direct, passionate and insightful as ever from their Ireland defence coach.
“He shows us where they’re going to attack us, where we’re going to be better and where we can stop them, and that’s the way he’s been since he’s come in last summer, and I don’t think anyone expected that to change, and it hasn’t,” Best said.
For Best it is also his final chance to impress watching British & Irish Lions coach Warren Gatland before the squad announcement on April 19 but he has toed the home nations’ party line of giving little thought to the All Blacks that lie in wait later in the summer, or any significance of his match up with fellow Lions contender and England captain Dylan Hartley.
“For me it’s just another game. He’s the captain of England, I’m the captain of Ireland and if we go into this game looking at personal battles then we can’t perform as a collective. I’ll go out and try and play as well as I can, as I do every time I pull on the green jersey and I’m sure he does the same for England.”
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Best: Pride the focus for Ireland
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