Rory Best celebrated the biggest highlight of his career as he captained Ireland to a first Six Nations Grand Slam thanks to a 24-15 victory over England at Twickenham on Saturday, writes Simon Lewis.
For Best, 35, it is the second time has enjoyed the experience of an Irish clean sweep in this championship but having been the back-up on his first Grand Slam team in 2009, leading his country to glory in 2018 was a cut above for the Ireland skipper.
“For me personally, it's a little bit more special,” Best said.. “Not only starting every game but captaining the side.
“Every kid grows up dreaming of playing for Ireland and when you do that the next thing you want to do is win something for Ireland. To win something as captain in that special green jersey, it's something that dreams are made of.
“It's up there as the biggest highlight of my career. To do it with this bunch of players and staff, it's a really tight-knit group. I know a lot of teams say that if they do well or win games but it's a special bunch.”
Getting Ireland over the line in their fifth and final match certainly required a special group of players. Ireland had not won at Twickenham since 2010 and England had not lost a Six Nations game at their home ground since 2012.
Yet Ireland got off to the perfect start with early tries from Garry Ringrose and CJ Stander, both converted by Johnny Sexton, before England could get on the scoreboard. Their first-half rally resulted in a yellow card for Ireland flanker Peter O’Mahony as the visitors came under pressure on their line and Elliot Daly made the numerical advantage count with a home try on the half-hour.
Yet Ireland landed the killer blow on the stroke of half-time when left wing Jacob Stockdale chased his own chip to touch down and push his side into a 19-5 lead, the conversion from Joey Carbery, a temporary replacement for the bloodied Sexton, opening up a 16-point advantage England would never get close to.
A second-half penalty from Conor Murray pushed England’s deficit to 19 points and though their wings Daly and Jonny May scored tries it was too little too late, particularly with Owen Farrell missing all three of England’s touchline conversions.
“It was a really tough match,” Best said. “We knew we were going to have to play unbelievably well to win. We created a couple of opportunities and a couple of things that we planned
“It was one of those days when we took quite a few of the set-plays we wanted to, but it was far from easy. It was a really, really tough Test.
“They're a quality side. Defensively it was one of our best displays. As players we felt that we probably owed Faz (defence coach Andy Farrell) one. We've been there in bits and pieces but hadn't followed through on his plan.”
Best said the turning point in the campaign had been rescuing victory against France with an overtime Sexton drop goal in Paris.
“I think we knew that we had to target the first game and then go one game at a time after that.
“You look at the fine margins and after 75 minutes we looked dead and buried in Paris having controlled a game that we should have already won. Those are the little moments. It's reflective of how much we know the effort that went in and how special that kick from Johnny was.
“We tried to ensure that magic moments like that don't go unrewarded and reward came this afternoon with that win.”