Best knows that Ireland need to see out the 80
Far from heralding a new dawn of more regular success, with each passing year that Grand Slam of 2009 – Ireland’s first in 61 years – looks like a peak. Given that side had been knocking on the door for years, that was always a possibility, but even so the lack of consistency since then has been driving the survivors mad, be it coaching staff or the strand of senior players still in situ.
Earlier in the week, Brian O’Driscoll gave vent to his frustration citing inconsistency as the most disappointing aspect of the team ever since. Last Sunday O’Driscoll, Rob Kearney, Donncha O’Callaghan and Jamie Heaslip were the only survivors from the Grand Slam starting XV in Cardiff, with Tom Court, Rory Best and Ronan O’Gara the only other members of the respective match-day squads.
“It’s hard really to know,” admitted Best this week when asked if he could explain the loss of consistency. “It’s sort of something weve talked a lot about, to you (the media) as well, which is consistency. We’ve shown that we can do it in one-off games and I think with a few changes in personnel we weren’t that far away from having a very good (tournament).
“We had a good start against Wales, we had moments in the England game where it could have went either way and then we let it slip, but in that Scotland game we produced enough opportunities where we could have won by a few points.”
Failure to capitalise
Much of it he attributes to “concentration and compounding an error” with another one; citing the failure again to capitalise when their opponents were reduced to 14 men.
“I think we’ve shown in the three games, passages where weve been very, very good, and yet again we’ve also shown passages where we were just a little bit inconsistent. In terms of improving our consistency, our training has been as good as I’ve ever been involved in, in an Ireland team. That is going to help and we just have to keep believing in what we are doing and you have to keep trying to persevere and hope that it will come.”
In particular contrast to the class of ’09, one recurring failure has been the inability to see out games over 80 minutes, suggesting there might be a lack of belief. “I dont think so,” said Best, pointing to the way they scored the first points of the second-halves in all three games.
His own, wrongly awarded yellow card against Wales for a legitimate poach, contributed to Ireland’s stress levels in that second-half, although he also concedes there may have been an element of “we’ve got this in the bag now”.
“A little bit of that is experience. We don’t have many survivors from ’09 so there is going to be a little bit less experience there but we still have to understand that in a Test match, playing for your country, every single minute and every second within that minute really counts. Momentum is key and we’ve had momentum in games and I feel we’ve probably just given that momentum up a little bit easily.”
As for his own specialised domain of the line-out, he attributed the four lost throws to one system failure, one excellent steal by the Scots and two missed throws by himself.
Speeding up the lineout or opting for shortened line-outs were options in their locker, he maintained, but didn’t suit the circumstances of the time, namely drives off attacking lineouts, and he took encouragement from the way they rectified matters in the second-half.
The French defensive line-out is invariably a searching test, with Yoann Maestri their front-of-the-line spoiler, and Yannick Nyanga their roving destroyer. “They seem to be able to produce these guys like (Julian) Bonnaire and (Imanol) Harinordoquy who are explosive and very good at reading the lineout. It will be a big challenge for us, it will be one that we’ll aim to get to the stats we want to get to and if we get there, we’ll know we’ve definitely done something right.”
Grand new Debut caps since March 2009
v Canada (8)
Darren Cave, Ian Whitten, Ian Dowling, Ian Keatley, John Muldoon, Niall Ronan, Mike Ross, Ryan Caldwell
v Australia (1)
v Fiji (3)
Jonny Sexton, Seán Cronin, Seán O’Brien
Six Nations 2010
v Italy (1)
v New Zealand (2)
John Fogarty, Dan Tuohy
v Australia (3)
Chris Henry, Damien Varley, Rhys Ruddock
v Samoa (1)
Six Nations 2011
v Italy (1)
World Cup warm-ups 2011
v Scotland (2)
Mike McCarthy, Felix Jones
v France (1)
World Cup 2011
Six Nations 2012
v Italy (1)
1st v New Zealand (3)
Simon Zebo, Declan Fitzpatrick, Ronan Loughney
v South Africa (4)
Richardt Strauss, David Kilcoyne, Michael Bent, Iain Henderson
v Argentina (1)
Six Nations 2013
v Scotland (2)
Paddy Jackson, Luke Marshall