‘There’s no point going ‘oh sure it’ll be right when we get to Japan”

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NO REST FOR the wicked. Days after his Ulster career was brought to a shuddering halt in Glasgow, Rory Best was back in training under Joe Schmidt’s orders. There was little time to dwell on the disappointment and there will be little time to switch off this summer.

Aside from a quick family trip to the Caribbean last week, the retiring Ireland captain is not thinking about holidays or time off as he bids to get himself in the best possible shape — mentally and physically — for what is to come over the next four months.

Best was in Dublin this week to promote the Union Cup. Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

“It’s not the same conundrum for me,” he says. “I can take as many holidays as I want, hopefully after 2 November. It’s been about getting the break last week, getting away with the kids and freshening up and then keeping myself ticking over until we meet up [for camp] on 16 June.”

That’s when the hard work will start. Schmidt’s 44-man squad will convene for the first time on Sunday week for pre-season training, 98 days before Ireland’s World Cup opener against Scotland on 22 September.

It will be all systems go from there, with a warm-weather training camp in Portugal an important part of the summer, while Ireland will also spend time in Galway and Limerick over the coming months. 

“I think the biggest lesson from 2007 was, don’t base yourself in one spot and sort of move around. It’s far better to move around,” Best continues. 

“When you are together for so long, you have got to change it up. I think the one thing that Joe has done for the two World Cups is that he has based a lot of his training in Ireland, which allows you a good balance of getting home.

“If we have a day off during the week, especially in the Dublin camps, we potentially go home for those. But also getting across to Galway and down to Limerick — it’s just different venues but all within Ireland, so you can jump in your car and drive down.

Ireland’s preparations will intensify, and then conclude, with four warm-up fixtures in August and early September, by which point Schmidt will have whittled his squad down to the 31 chosen players. 

After the disappointment of the Six Nations campaign, during which Ireland dipped well below their high and consistent standards under Schmidt as they slipped to chastening defeats to England and Wales, the summer series has taken on added significance.

Ireland will face Italy, Wales [home and away] and England in the build-up to the tournament and Best admits the team need to use those outings to regain their confidence and intensity heading to Japan.

“You’ve got to keep it in the back of your head that ultimately when you don’t fully commit to something you’re probably more likely to get injured,” the 36-year-old explains.

Best after Ireland’s Six Nations defeat to Wales. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

“The biggest thing for us, and those games traditionally don’t have as much intensity about them unless you’ve a team looking to make a point. It was 2015 when England beat the crap out of us. In fact, it was 2011 as well because we had stopped them Grand Slamming and they came to the Aviva and beat the crap out of us.

“You can generate intensity either if you’ve a point to prove or, like we have…we need to find a bit of form, we need to find a bit of intensity.”

Top of the agenda when the squad reconvenes later this month will be to identify the reasons why they started so poorly in Cardiff back in March and how they can avoid doing the same in Japan.

“We’ve got to look at why we didn’t start well because the last thing you want to do is go to the first game against Scotland, or even if you give Japan an opening like that with the atmosphere that’s going to be at that game, you just make life hard for yourself,” Best continues.

“We’ve got to see how we prepare. Because the Wales game kind of happened and we haven’t really been together because of all the European stuff, we haven’t had a good time to digest it. We’ve a good bit of time over the summer but we’ve got to look at what did we do differently in terms of our preparation that we got off on the wrong foot.”

It rocked you a bit, didn’t it?

“Yeah, it did,” the captain admits. “There are a number of things we’ll look at and it’s right across the board. I think we play best when we enjoy our rugby. Go out and bring physicality but ultimately we enjoy it and we get fired in. You look at the Grand Slam in 2018 and look at the comparisons, everyone looked like they were enjoying their rugby.

“There’s no point going ‘oh sure it’ll be right when we get to Japan’ because if you have that attitude, like 2007, that’s when you come unstuck. I’ve heard a couple of players who played then saying ‘there are a lot of similarities to it’ but in my eyes, there isn’t. Because we now know we can’t just reproduce what we’ve produced.

“We kind of went into 2007 saying we’ll be fine when we get there, well we won’t be. Hopefully, we will be but we can’t just have that attitude, we’ve got to look at why, how and be big about it.”

Rory Best was speaking at the announcement of Bank of Ireland’s three-season partnership with Ireland’s leading LGBT+ rugby club, the Emerald Warriors. The announcement comes ahead of the start of the Union Cup, Europe’s biggest LGBT+ inclusive rugby tournament. The two-day festival of rugby will be held from 7-9 June at DCU.

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