Sean McMahon reporting from Twickenham.
In about 24 hours, Rory Best will lead his country out in arguably the biggest game of his glittered career to date.
Best is already a Grand Slam winner with Ireland, he came off the bench in the 68th minute to replace Jerry Flannery on that fateful day in Cardiff in 2009 but now he has the opportunity, nine years later, to achieve the same feat, as a captain, in perhaps a more difficult venue and set of circumstances.
With Ireland on the cusp of achieving something truly great – winning a Grand Slam in Twickenham, it would be natural for nervousness to be present among the squad, something which Best believes is natural and not a bad thing.
“There’s obviously a lot of nervous energy around it, it is a big game. You have to try to treat as just another game. Everyone is aware of the significance it has for Irish rugby and this group of players but yeah, there’s nervous energy but it’s very, very exciting because you want to pit yourself against the best teams and the best teams in the northern hemisphere, you want to put yourself in a position to win things.
“We’ve done, by and large, a lot of that now. We’ve obviously won the championship and pit ourselves against four of the top teams in the northern hemisphere and now we have an opportunity to come here and pit ourselves against, what has been over the last number of years, the best team in the northern hemisphere. So it’s a massive challenge for us, obviously, when you play in big games you get nervous so that’s what there is at the minute.”
Not many Irish sides have come to the home of English rugby and escape with a victory, in fact, more often than not, Ireland leave with their tail between their legs. Best knows how the Twickenham ‘factor’ can intimidate opposition players and he is determined to keep the English support quiet throughout the game.
“This place [Twickenham], it is a big fortress, there’s no point trying to hide away from that. It’s a massive challenge for us because they pack so many people in, they’re very passionate and like most teams, England get a lift from that.
“It’s going to be a challenge for us to make sure that we get ourselves in position to quiet the crowd and get the Irish, some of which I’m sure will wander down the road from Cheltenham, standing on their feet as much as we can and the only way to do that is for us to perform and be big in the game.”
A lot of Ireland’s younger players, although they have performed incredibly to date, will not have experienced the type of atmosphere they will on Saturday afternoon and Best warns that for them, “it is not the time to go into your shell.”
“Look, some of these guys are young but they’re actually, in terms of big games and must-win games at club level, they’re fairly well experienced and it is just about making sure they know how important their role is but also how important it is for them to play their own game and to be able to express themselves and tomorrow at quarter to three is not the time to go into your shell.”