Rory Best receives fitting send off at the Aviva
‘It is obviously incredibly special. This place has given me some wonderful memories’
Ireland captain Rory Best receives a standing ovation as he leaves the field. Photograph: Tom Honan
Rory Best acknowledged the standing ovation with a faint smile and a wave as he departed from the pitch to be replaced by Sean Cronin. He would receive more enduring adulation after Ireland had claimed a 19-10 victory; he deserved every decibel of acclamation in his last performance at the Aviva stadium.
Since making his debut in 2005, no-one could question the quality or commitment, his contribution as player and captain will be remembered long after he has gone. There’s still a little play in his international career, the small matter of a Rugby World Cup in Japan to come.
He has led Ireland to two victories over New Zealand and a Grand Slam last year - he was also there for the clean sweep of the 2009 Six Nations - and the warmth of the reception recognised the person and the player.
Speaking on the pitch after the game, Best tried to put into words how the occasion impacted on a personal level without unscrewing the lid on his emotions. He almost managed until he referenced his family; the glistening eyes and a gentle pause briefly stripped away his composure.
He said: “It’s great having the support of these boys out here. It seems a long time ago since I came off the bench and came down into that corner for a scrum alongside my brother (Simon). Those are the things that you remember, the little bits and pieces, the trips to the stadium on the bus, the moments after the game when you are looking around the dressing room and everyone is wrecked and you have given it all for this jersey.
“These moments are made special by your team, your family and by so many people,” his equilibrium slipping momentarily as the crowd roared in approbation. “Today was really, really important for us as a team to make sure that we took a step forward from last week. We know we have a long, long way to go. It was a very efficient performance against a quality side.”
He then paid tribute to Ireland’s head coach Joe Schmidt, a man alongside whom he has soldiered from a field in Chicago for the greater good of the green jersey. “It would be very remiss of me not to mention a coach that came into Ireland a good few years ago with Leinster; with Ireland he has transformed the international game here.
“I have been very privileged to work with him both as a player and a captain, I can’t be grateful enough for everything that Joe Schmidt has done for me as a player, the team and the country.”
Half an hour later, he sat alongside Schmidt and focused on Ireland’s victory initially. “The lads last week put a bit of a marker down as to where we expect the physicality to be and where we expect that collective to be and we knew we need to improve and take another step. I think that was another step today in terms of those aspects of the game.
“Those are the aspects that we pride ourselves on that certainly in Twickenham and bits of the Six Nations that we didn’t feel as players we were good enough in.
“We know we have a lot more in us and we know we are going to have to produce a lot more,but in terms of steps in the right direction I think that is a performance we can be happy with and get on the plane on Wednesday with a bit of confidence. No doubt we will look back at the mistakes we made and as always we will try and get better.”
Trailing at the interval, Best was pleased with Ireland’s second half performance. “The start of the second half, we held onto possession a lot better; we were better at the breakdown and we controlled not just possession but territory a lot better in the second half. That was the reaction we wanted.
“We defended quite well, certainly at the start of the game but you can’t sit and just defend against a team like Wales. You have to get a hold of the ball and control it (the game).”
He wasn’t going to be allowed to escape the room without a further inquiry about an emotive afternoon. He explained: “It is obviously incredibly special. This place has given me some wonderful memories, some ones that you have had to use to try and be better and to get that reception from the supporters her.
“It’s nice for my mum and dad, my young family and my wife to be in there and to hear that. It’s nice to see that over a fairly long period of time you have done more things right than not and to get that appreciation is lovely. Ultimately it was about making sure that we were able to build on last week. It’s nice to get the standing ovation and the applause but the performance and the result was far from important than that.”
He also responded to a question about the lineout, one that recovered from a shaky start, losing the first couple to then win the next 10 in succession with replacement hooker Sean Cronin contributing handsomely.
“You have guys who can think their way through a game and it’s very important and takes the pressure off. What it does it breeds confidence. In the lineout you are so interdependent and when things start to go a bit jittery you just need someone to stand up and be that figure to go ‘right this is what we are going to.’
“People just want to buy into it. James (Ryan) is very much becoming that person around our squad, Hendy (Iain Henderson) has called for us a bit and is getting that. It’s an area of the game that you want it to be perfect. It’s not going to be perfect but you have to be able to problem solve, you have to be able to win the next moment.
“We talked about it in England, it was disappointing to lose the lineouts we did but probably the most disappointing thing was how we reacted off the back of it. Maro Itoje’s try, to lose a lineout to score off the second phase, that is not us trying to win the next play, that’s us heads down and disappointed. And I think we saw a lot better reaction today.”