With the Rugby World Cup in Japan looming, Ireland captain Rory Best has addressed what went wrong in the 2019 Six Nations Championships.
Joe Schmidt’s side came into the game as raging hot favourites having beaten all before them in 2018. Ireland followed up their Grand Slam victory with a first series win in Australia since 1979 before going on to defeat the All Blacks on home soil for the first time.
However, the wheels came off the wagon when Ireland were beaten by England in the opening round of the Six Nations Championships before falling to Wales in the last round.
Best admits that a bit of complacency may have sunk in ahead of the tournament this year.
“The first thing I remember of Joe’s time in charge was sitting in a team meeting and he asked how we perceived ourselves. The big word from all the group was ‘inconsistent’. The big thing he said was no matter how we play, we have got to prepare the same way. That’s been the hallmark of Joe – to go away from that foundation now would be madness,” Best told reporters.
“Probably subconsciously, in the 2019 Six Nations, we maybe did. I don’t think it was anything conscious but, when you look back now, we probably believed that we had the ability to turn up and beat anyone. That we were this all-conquering force having won the Grand Slam, had tour wins in Australia, and beaten the All Blacks and Argentina.
“It’s funny how those little things go through your head. Maybe, at this level, it’s not doing that extra couple of minutes on the computer tonight. I’ll look at training, but skip a bit. It sometimes takes a reality check, finishing third was bitterly disappointing.”
Despite a rocky start to 2019, Best is sure that the Irish team are as hungry as ever and are eager to prove that 2018 wasn’t just a flash in the pan.
“When the boys came in at the start of pre-season, everyone was as hungry as I’ve seen when a group of players come together,” he said.
“You always get a pocket who are hungry, a pocket ready to go and another pocket who are just coming in because it is at the start of pre-season and they have to be here. But by and large, we have a couple of players who want to prove that 2019 was the blip, not 2018.”
With a little under seven weeks to go until Ireland make their 2019 World Cup bow against Scotland, Joe Schmidt’s side will be desperate to avoid a repeat of the 2015 World Cup when injuries hampered Ireland’s progress before being defeated by Argentina in the semi-finals.
Best reflected on what went wrong four years ago claiming that having depth to your squad is vital going into a World Cup, something that Ireland didn’t have the last time out in France.
“When you go to a World Cup, and touch wood there isn’t going to be an injury in the next games, you’ve got to have depth. Four years ago, by and large, we had the same team, the same 23 put out most weeks in the championship.
“All of a sudden against France, we lost the spine of the team and it was tough to take. We were bringing in quality players who were maybe not experienced – back-up players not just for Ireland, but for the provinces who hadn’t started big Euro games. It’s about talent, but also about how to cope with pressure in those big games. It’s a really tough balance to get.”