Ireland hooker Rory Best was in relaxed mood as he looked forward to Friday’s final World Cup warm-up match against Italy and reflected on the positives taken from last week’s win over Bayonne.
Friday’s clash with the Azzurri will afford Best the chance to play for Ireland on his home ground of Ravenhill for the first time, as the Belfast venue hosts its first full Ireland international since 1954.
Settling back into camp – but this time a lot closer to home – Best admitted: “It’s good to be here (in Belfast). Normally I have to travel three hours to meet up with the squad so it was nice to only have to drive half an hour to go to the team meeting.
“It will be good to play at Ravenhill, I can’t wait really. Ravenhill is very special to me and it will be great to get another run-out. I know the game is sold out and it is going to be a fantastic atmosphere with a full house behind us.”
Best blew off the cobwebs by playing in the 42-6 win over Bayonne in the south of France last Thursday, and the 25-year-old was pleased to get back playing matches after a prolonged pre-season.
“It was good to get a game, particularly with it being the first game of the season for a lot of us. It is vital that we can get as many games as we can before we start the World Cup, because you can do all the running and weight training you want but nothing can simulate a scrum or a ruck or a maul in terms of fatigue in the legs. It was good to be starting in what was a strong team,” he added.
“The players wanted another game, and it was a good, hard physical one in terms of what the forwards wanted to do. It will toughen us up and get us ready for the game against Italy.”
Having taken his chance to shine during the recent autumn internationals and Six Nations campaign, Best has edged ahead of Jerry Flannery and Frankie Sheahan in the pecking order of hookers and he relishes the competition the Munster pair provide.
“It keeps you own your toes having competition. But I feel a lot more comfortable now in the squad and feel part of the system. Having got a few starts it’s important that I don’t sit back and that I’ve got to continue to push forward.
“But there is cover all round in the squad. It’s going to be a long World Cup and there will be knocks and niggles, and players will get injured. It is great that the depth is there and that everyone feels comfortable that the fifteen players out on the park will do the job for Ireland.”
Best played for the first hour of Ireland’s 51-24 Six Nations win over Italy in Rome this year and the Poyntzpass man reckons Pierre Berbizier’s team will offer the hosts a stern test on Friday as they look to put in a morale-boosting performance ahead of the World Cup.
“Italy will be just as hard as Bayonne. Everyone always goes on about Italy’s physical presence up front, but as well as that they have some very good three quarters. Make no mistake they are a good team, an up-and-coming team and they are probably going to have quite a good World Cup themselves. You can bet they will be looking to kickstart their campaign on Friday night.”