…Confidence Boost For Best…Les ‘King Of The Pins’…Fourth Place A Possibility For Ireland…Say What?…Numbers Game…
CONFIDENCE BOOST FOR BEST: Hooker Rory Best says it is a ‘big confidence boost’ for him to get the nod over Jerry Flannery for Saturday’s RBS 6 Nations encounter with Scotland.
Best and the rest of the Irish squad and management flew over to Edinburgh last evening, setting up camp ahead of the vital clash with Frank Hadden’s men.
Speaking to IrishRugby.ie, he said: “I’m delighted to get a start. There’s a lot of competition for places right across the board, from 1 to 15, which I suppose is vital if you want to have a squad that is going to be challenging to win internationals on a regular basis.
“A mark of how strong a squad is, first and foremost, when you look at the quality of player that hasn’t made the 22. In this case, Malcolm O’Kelly, Eoin Reddan, Shane Horgan, to name but a few.
“Then the next thing to look at is the quality on the bench. The three games before this and now, the bench just oozes quality which is what you need in those vital last 20 minutes of a game.”
Asked if the four personnel changes announced by Declan Kidney took the players by surprise, the Ulster captain admitted that it is difficult to forecast what the management will do from week to week.
“Whenever you’re winning, it’s hard to expect there to be any changes. But at the same time, Declan feels he knows what’s best to get a performance out of the squad.
“It shows how tight the whole squad is in terms of performance, that he feels able to make four changes and it’s great for my point of view to get a chance.
“It’ll be up to the four boys that come in to pick up the baton that’s been left down and keep pushing on and keep pushing this Ireland team forward.”
The fact that Scotland winger Simon Danielli plays his club rugby for Ulster will add spice to Saturday’s game, from Best’s point of view.
He rates Danielli and the rest of the Scottish side very highly.
“Scottish teams are all very skilful. They like to play with their ball in the hand. They’ve a very big pack, you just look at their 1 to 8 they have quality and size which is the hallmark of a good international pack.
“They’ll bring an all round game. From an Ulster point of view, obviously we know Simon (Danielli) really well.
“He’s been going really well, got man-of-the-match against Italy and then he was one of our best players the weekend past.
“They’re very dangerous out wide but they also have a good, hard pack. We just have to have our analysis done and make sure we get our individual as well as collective preparation right.”
LES ‘KING OF THE PINS’: Defence coach Les Kiss displayed his bowling skills recently when the Irish squad and management took part in a ten pin bowling competition in Cork, but communications and media manager Karl Richardson was well off the pace. Blame the shoes Karl, blame the shoes!
Commenting on the night, Ireland captain Brian O’Driscoll said: “We spent one night out in Cork playing ten pin bowling and then going out for a meal. Even though we were divided up into teams, there was an individual competition with a nice prize for the winner.
“Les Kiss ran away with it, comfortably eclipsing all on his way to about 180. It might not sound a massive total but if you saw some of the scores you’d appreciate resembled ‘Kingpin’ stuff compared to the rest.
“Karl (Richardson) threw his first two balls into the gutters and then went and got the kiddies’ aid, a kind of slide that allows youngsters to bowl. He did it as a joke but trust me he would have been better off using it for the entire time.
“I was very poor, just about managing three figures with a late surge that included a strike and a couple of spares.
“Some people you think would be very good at it weren’t. Lukey (Fitzgerald) who is good at everything. One of two dark horses, notably Marcus Horan, suggested a misspent youth in terms of their prowess.”
FOURTH PLACE A POSSIBILITY FOR IRELAND: Ireland may be targeting victory over Scotland at Murrayfield to keep alive hopes of a first Grand Slam since 1948, but a win could also take them to fourth in the IRB World Rankings and their highest position for nearly two years.
Declan Kidney’s side lie sixth, although less than half a rating point behind current incumbent Argentina.
Any Ireland victory – unless Wales were to beat Italy by more than 15 points in Rome – would see them become the northern Hemisphere’s highest ranked side.
Even if Wales were to record a convincing triumph over Italy, then a win by more than 15 points as well for Ireland would still be enough to keep them ahead of the defending RBS 6 Nations champions in the race to claim fourth spot.
In the event of such a convincing win for Ireland then Scotland would slide one place to 10th with Fiji assuming their previous position.
Italy’s position of 12th would be unaffected by defeat as they currently hold more than a two-point cushion over Tonga beneath them.
Argentina will retain fourth place in the event of both Wales and Ireland losing to lower ranked sides, outcomes which would see them fall one or two places and Italy, who did beat Wales 23-20 in their last meeting in Rome, also swap places once more with Samoa to return to 11th.
Scotland will face the ‘old enemy’ on the final weekend of the 2009 Championship and could theoretically go into that encounter sitting above England in the rankings, although they would need to beat Ireland by more than 15 points and England then lose by the same margin to France at Twickenham on Sunday.
France currently sit one place above England in the rankings at seventh, although their hosts have won the two previous encounters, including the 2007 Rugby World Cup semi-final at the Stade de France.
A simple victory for France is unlikely to improve their position, unless Ireland and Wales lose.
However, were the away sides to post narrow victories and les Bleus beat England by more than 15 points then France could end the weekend in fourth position.
In that instance Argentina would slide three places to seventh without playing a match, while England would remain eighth.
An England win would see them swap places with France and they could climb as high as fifth providing that Wales and Ireland suffer shock defeats.
“What drives him? I’d say family life. The last couple of years he’s involved in building up the house now, getting the homestead and everything working. He doesn’t like the limelight, he’s a quiet man.
“He lives for the farm. He was working as a welder for a couple of years but his heart is on the land, to be honest.”
– Bruff RFC PRO Richard Leonard talks about the Limerick club’s most famous player, John Hayes, and what drives him to achieve success and hit landmarks such as Saturday’s Irish caps record
“Blue. That’s not because I am a Leinster supporter but rather a lifelong Everton fan.”
– Answering a fan’s question about his favourite colour, Ireland lock Paul O’Connell lets it slip about his support for the Toffees. Sixth in the Premiership table, Stoke at home on Saturday, if you’re asking!
“Christy Moore came in to see us in Killiney Castle on Monday night. It’s been a while since we have seen him in the flesh but his music is always played in the dressing room.
“It was a great night with a good old sing song, allowing for the fact some are tone deaf. That’s not something you could say about Denis Leamy.
“He’d be fairly shy and wouldn’t be shoving his way to the stage but when Christy asked him to come up and sing with him, ‘Leams’ did – he has a good voice.”
– Ireland captain Brian O’Driscoll reveals more about the squad’s private gig with Christy Moore at the team hotel, pushing the claims of a certain Mr. Leamy for an X Factor slot
70 – Ireland currently boast a winning rate of 70% in the RBS 6 Nations. Since the five nations became ‘six’ back in 2000, Ireland have won 34 of their matches in the Six Nations tournament, losing the other 14.
France are just ahead of Ireland in terms of match wins with 35 (72%). Ireland’s opponents on Saturday, Scotland, have won only 14 (29%) of their 48 Six Nations games to date
8 – It has been eight years since Scotland’s last RBS 6 Nations win over Ireland. In fact, Scotland are currently waiting longer for a Six Nations win over Ireland than against any of their tournament rivals.
Their last victory over Saturday’s visitors in the competition came back in 2001 during the ‘foot and mouth’ Championship
100 – Scotland full-back Chris Paterson, who will make his first start of this year’s RBS 6 Nations on Saturday, has been the most consistent place-kicker in the tournament to date.
The Edinburgh clubman has kicked three conversions and five penalty goals for a 100% return. Ireland’s Ronan O’Gara has a success rate of 68%, after kicking seven conversions and six penalties