‘We have got our little wake-up call,’ says Best of Six Nations downturn

Few stars get to act out a Hollywood ending.

‘We have got our little wake-up call,’ says Best of Six Nations downturn

Few stars get to act out a Hollywood ending.

Richie McCaw got to walk into the sunset after lifting the Webb Ellis trophy in 2015, but how many others have been handed that script? Even Brian O’Driscoll, whose last act as an Irish player was to win a Six Nations, limped off the stage in his last game with Leinster two months later.

All you can do is stick a pin in the calendar and hope for the best. Pray that the sporting gods smile on you or, at the very least, keep their meddling paws to themselves as the clock winds down and the scene plays itself out.

Rory Best hasn’t set a date just yet but it is close. It may be that his career ends in Yokohama, or it could come at Kinsgpan Stadium. Either would be fitting backdrops but who is to say it doesn’t end on a cold February night at Rodney Parade?

All he knows for now is that he was happy with his form before injury struck at the Aviva Stadium last weekend and that the looming shadow of retirement has, if anything, actually allowed him to play without thinking about what comes next.

“You just worry about the next game and you think about making sure you enjoy it because you know there’s a good chance you may not be playing in the Aviva in a quarter-final of the European Cup in an Ulster jersey again. So you want to make sure people remember the best of you.

“It’s happened quite a bit at Ulster, Irish internationals who have come to us and, in their last couple of years, they’re not getting picked. Even the way they are around the place, they weren’t training very hard and they ended up nearly waving the white flag and walking out the back door.

That’s something I always said I would try not to let happen, but you can’t 100% control it. Whenever I’m leaving I want to leave on my terms.

Best has given this stuff plenty of thought. That determination to wrap up the last loose ends on his own screenplay is borne of more than just eye-witness accounts of former teammates whose flame burned out before their contracts expired.

Fourteen months have passed since the controversial matter of his attendance at the trial in Belfast of former teammates Paddy Jackson and Stuart Olding, which he then addressed at a post-match press conference in the Stade de France.

The 36-year spoke candidly about the situation in a subsequent documentary aired by the BBC and he explained again yesterday how it led him to question whether he should give up the Ireland captaincy and even whether he should retire from rugby.

He admits to struggling with the fallout which led to a #NotMyCaptain campaign on Twitter and talk of boycotts from Ireland games. That he didn’t walk away was down in no small part to the support he received from his teammates and coaches. And to his own instincts.

“It’s one of those times when you feel that the spotlight is on you and all you really want to do, all your instinct wants to do is, for want of a better expression, crawl under a rock somewhere. And then when you come out, you hope that it’s all gone away. That’s what your instinct is.

“But then you also know, and I hope it’s the kind of personality that I have, it was never going to be an option. I felt as long as I had the support from my peers and my coaches, it’s a dream of mine to do (captain Ireland) and I don’t want to give it up.”

The picture-perfect ending is still a possibility. He spoke passionately yesterday about what it would mean for him to guide the side to this year’s World Cup and how the squad will seek to address the ills that afflicted them during the recent Six Nations. There has been no group debrief since the Wales defeat.

Joe Schmidt, mindful of the fact that the four provinces had crucial European ties to come, released his players back to the clubs, but Best was clear that there will be no attempt by players or coaches to sweep recent events under the carpet and carry on regardless.

“The coaching staff will have gone through (the Six Nations) forensically and they will know exactly what they want when we get together again as a player group. We will look at it as well and see what was different. Did we prepare or play differently? Did we take our eye off the ball with the World Cup? I have heard a few people refer back to ’07 but the beauty of it this time is that this happened the Six Nations before. We have got our little wake-up call. There is no point in us going, ‘it happened, we will be fine in September’. We will look back at it and find a couple of things. We know we can’t start the tournament slowly.

“If we lose the first two games then we are playing for third anyway. Also, we have to find a way to get that real intensity back over 80 minutes like we had before. We showed it against France. How good France are nobody knows but we still had that intensity and we have to find a way to get that again because the first 10 minutes against Wales and the game was over.”

More in this section


Latest news from the world of sport, along with the best in opinion from our outstanding team of sports writers

Sign up

Select your favourite newsletters and get the best of Irish Examiner delivered to your inbox