Best says Brian O’Driscoll epitomised how everyone played part in great team effort
‘He didn’t go out of his way to make a point, he just did what he always does and that’s play unbelievably well’
Rory Best finds Devin Toner in Saturday’s game at the Aviva Stadium. Photograph: Michael Steele/Getty Images
Rory Best’s face is mottled with irregular crimson blotches, a legacy of an afternoon’s sport in the Aviva Stadium. They offer a reminder of the physical commitment that Ireland expended in trying to dethrone the Six Nations champions, Wales, the visitors pursuing a third successive championship.
An Irish victory brings satisfaction on a number of levels, while also offering the prospect of silverware in the short and medium term. Ireland will chase a Triple Crown against England at Twickenham in a fortnight and depending on that result, there may be other baubles and trinkets to collect.
Best embodies the grit, the character, the selflessness and the singular focus of Joe Schmidt’s team. That’s not to denigrate his talent as a rugby player or his mental and physical toughness.
The initial point of reference was the satisfaction in victory. “The performance was very good and the result obviously followed. You could maybe say the score-line flattered us a little bit, but we dominated large parts of that game.”
Best explained that the team spoke all week about the strength of the Welsh breakdown work and how they would have to neuter the effect that Toby Faletau and Sam Warburton in that area of the game. “To take the game to Wales you need to have the ball. We knew we needed to be able to protect it and that would get rid of the threats.
“It was a bit of a physical statement for us to be able to go out and dominate that breakdown and really give the backs some good ball. But also, when they had the ball, to try to slow it down and make it as big a mess as we could.”
The Welsh body language betrayed a hint of surprise, perplexed by how Ireland dominated in this facet of the game. Best elaborated: “I suppose that’s something else we talked about, to bring them here into our home ground and to make sure that we made a physical statement early on.
“(We wanted) to try to see it in their eyes, that after 10 minutes they knew we meant business and that we weren’t going to let our foot off the throat.
“I think last year we obviously shocked them in the first half with the way we played, but then we died. That was a big thing for us. It wasn’t just about 10 minutes, it was about each 10-minute block, making sure that we brought that physicality and intensity and that we tried to lift it each 10 minutes.”
A member of the Grand Slam winning group in 2009, the 72-times capped hooker was asked if he had observed similar characteristics in the current squad.
“It’s a close-knit group, we all get on very well and the most important thing is that we all work very, very hard. I think probably one of the most pleasing things over the last two games has been the impact of the bench. In the past Ireland have emptied the bench and the performance drops a wee bit or get a bit disjointed.
“But the last two weeks the bench has been emptied and everyone has picked up the baton and run with it and really brought an extra bit of physicality and brought fresh legs on. When you can get that within a squad it’s very, very encouraging.”
Best’s reference to any lingering disappointment post Lions was measured. “I think it was obviously a disappointing tour from an Ireland point of view, probably right across the board. But I think the big thing was that this was about team performance; we didn’t speak about individual battles, we spoke about making sure that everyone plays their part in a team performance.
“There’s probably no greater example than the way Brian O’Driscoll played. He didn’t go out of his way to make a point, he just did what he always does and that’s play unbelievably well in the team environment to make sure that we get a performance and ultimately get the result. That’s what we’re about, getting performances and results.”
No room for debate again after Saturday’s success.