Rory Best refuses to comment on attendance at rape trial

Ireland captain was speaking in Paris ahead of Saturday’s Six Nations meeting with France

Ireland’s Rory Best speaks at a press conference ahead of the Six Nations match against France. Photo: Gonzalo Fuentes/Reuters

Ireland’s Rory Best speaks at a press conference ahead of the Six Nations match against France. Photo: Gonzalo Fuentes/Reuters

 

Ireland go into Saturday’s Six Nations opener in Paris in the unusual, and perhaps even uncomfortable position, of six point favourites, assuredly a first for any Irish team in Paris, where they have won just twice since 1972, and both times by just two points, in 2000 and 2014.

Speaking after Friday morning’s captain’s run in the Stade de France, where Ireland lost under his watch two years ago, captain Rory Best admitted history has taught him to not only respect any French team, but even to be a little scared of them.

“Absolutely. When you look at the way the French clubs perform in Europe, and you look at the quality, and sometimes you have to look at who isn’t involved just to see how strong a squad they are. We’ve seen them and we know how dangerous they are. They just go out and they play, and they play with confidence. We’re certainly not underestimating this French team, that has a lot of power and experience through the spine of the team.”

Best was also asked why he attended the trial for alleged rape against Paddy Jackson and Stuart Olding on Wednesday and said: “No I have no comment.” Asked whether he had been given permission from the IRFU, he repeated: “No comment.”

When Best was asked if he was aware of the social media storm his attendance had generated, an IRFU spokesperson intervened and said: “Sorry, we’re not going to react to comments on social media. We’re here to comment on the game. Keep it game focused.”

Returning to the game, Best was quick to dismiss Ireland’s tag as favourites. “Certainly the favourites tag isn’t something we’ve talked about. By and large that’s not something we talk about. We give the opposition the respect we deserve. Our record here isn’t great over some 40 years now and that’s because it’s a tough place to come. That’s what we’ve been stressing.

“Even the Championship win of four years ago that came right down to the wire, and probably we had a small slice of luck at the end to get the ball back. You make your own luck but it’s going to take a big, big performance for us to win here.”

Best and his team are also acutely mindful of the slow start in their opening game in Murrayfield last year. “No matter what age you are, you like to think you can learn as you go along. I don’t feel 12 months ago was overconfidence, I just feel we were a little under-prepared going in, in the two weeks building in. That’s a big lesson. While autumn form is good and you can have played well, by and large it now becomes irrelevant.”

Ireland have three Six Nations’ debutants themselves in James Ryan, Bundee Aki and Jacob Stockdale, but as Best said all performed well last November, and in a comment that could just as easily apply to the French full debutants, Matthieu Jalibert and Geoffrey Palis, added: “Sometimes not knowing what’s coming is a good thing, there’s less for you to fear and you can just go out and worry about playing your own game.”

“The big thing is to play the match and not the occasion, stick to the stuff they know well. It’s a team that we’re not so much caught up with expectations and pressure. The pressure we put on ourselves in training and how to play, our standards are very high.

“No matter how much you’ve prepared yourself, even if you’ve been here before, for any player to step out into that stadium and the noise generated, it wouldn’t say it’s a shock, but it’s a hugely motivating factor. You grow up watching the Six Nations games and you hear the noise on the TV as a fan, but stepping into the arena as a player, it is totally different.

“And how you handle that, I suppose that does separate those who can step up and those who cannot. There are probably going to be times when there are small setbacks, that’s natural, but then it’s about how people respond. When times gets tough we have to get tighter as a group too.

“I’ve talked a lot already about the pressure; it would just put so much pressure on you. We’ve talked about how we let the start of the Championship last year get away from us. But in terms of just the pressure, it’s not so much even about a defeat in the first game, it’s about the opening exchanges. Regardless of the scoreboard you’ve got to feel you’re in the game in the early exchanges.”