Ireland will be in their elements in Cardiff
‘We made a decision on playing a game of rugby in the outdoors’
A view of an open roof at Ireland’s Captain’s Run. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho
Rory Best and Rob Kearney are all that remain from the last great Ireland day at the Millennium stadium (since renamed The Principality) - the 2009 Grand Slam. Since then, Ireland have been tortured by Warren Gatland’s team at a World Cup quarter-final and under Joe Schmidt’s ground-breaking guidance they are yet to win in the Six Nations at this ground.
That might have a little to do with Schmidt demanding, as is his right, that the roof to be left open.
“We made a decision on playing a game of rugby in the outdoors,” said Best, on the eve of his final Six Nations match. “A lot has been made of it outside our camp. It was the best decision we made and we just left it at that so we can focus on preparing for a match, whether it is indoors or outdoors.
“We were just out there now and because it is such a big stadium the wind swirls a bit. It will be what it will be, I suppose.”
The weather forecast is for rain with heavy gusts of wind. These are the best conditions Schmidt’s Ireland believe can help them deny Wales a third Grand Slam before Warren Gatland moves on.
There is an emotional element to all matches in this stadium, not least for Best on his last day leading Ireland in this tournament following a 14 year 116-cap test match career.
“One part of me will really miss these games, these builds ups,” said the Ulster and Ireland captain. “There is another part of me tomorrow when you are trying to force a pre-match meal down your neck and you are incredibly nervous and you’d really rather be somewhere else than that room at that moment. I look forward to being able to spend the day with the family watching rugby and maybe allow my family enjoy watching rugby. I don’t think my mum and dad have enjoyed an Ireland game of rugby since 2005, with nerves.
“It’s an incredible tournament that has been really great to me. There have been some low moments, but you try to live and learn. I’ll look forward to going out and playing. My first Six Nations cap was against Wales in 2006. Seems a long, long time ago now. On the other hand it is gone in flash.
“Besides the Aviva stadium, there is no other place I’d rather play because when this place is full and there is something on the line, it is a special place to play.”
“There will be moments. When you leave the bedroom for the team meeting, hopping on the bus, during the anthems - those moments dawn on you as the last in a Six Nations game. You’ll miss the little high bits - that first whistle when the crowd goes bananas. The atmosphere in the changing room after, when everyone is sitting down, absolutely knackered.
“Those moments will make you emotional but I’ve probably dragged the ass out of it long enough at this stage. I’ve always said if I could pick when I want to leave, I want to go on my terms when I am playing well. I feel I am playing well at the moment and I’m looking forward to what comes, hopefully, at the end of the year.”
What has Schmidt said about the end?
“There are many shades to Joe . . . He is incredibly good at gauging the mood of the group and what we need to really concentrate on to keep improving. That’s the skill of the man.”
Considering there are New Zealanders on the Ireland coaching and playing staff, Best was asked about the terror attack in Christchurch.
“Waking up this morning to that news, it’s just really, really tragic.
“Our heartfelt sympathies go out to all the families and anyone in the greater Christchurch area and anyone with family over there. We obviously have Joe, we have Greg Feek, Bundee [AKI]has family New Zealand. Ronan O’Gara, a good friend of a lot of the squad, is over there as well.
“It’s just one of those tragedies that is hard to put into words. You feel very helpless, all you can do is pass on your deepest sympathies and it is really, really tragic. Definitely it was the talk of team room this morning at breakfast because everyone was shocked and saddened by it.”