After helping Ireland beat Wales in yesterday’s RBS 6 Nations showdown in Dublin, hooker Rory Best revealed the hurtful truth laid bare by new head coach Joe Schmidt has driven the players to put complete performances together.
Speaking in the aftermath of the 26-3 win, Rory Best said: “We knew that we were starting well and not really finishing well, but until it’s put down in black and white in front of you – Joe (Schmidt) highlighted it that we were ahead in games or close at half-time and ended up losing.
“When you’re a professional player and it’s highlighted, it hurts a wee bit, especially when with our provinces we all pride ourselves in the way we finish games, the way we keep at it and the way we back our fitness.
“We didn’t see it any different and then when you saw the stats go up, it showed that we weren’t really finishing.”
Ireland have put together two very effective second half displays now, outscoring Scotland 17-3 in the closing 40 minutes last week and they put 13 points on try-less Wales after the break yesterday.
Best insists they must make a habit of the performances that have seen them beat Scotland and Wales in their opening two Six Nations games.
It is that consistency which is the difference between a good display now and again and challenging for the Championship title.
“We’ve got to make sure that it’s not just a two-game thing…this is a five-game Championship. We’re two games down and have three massive ones to come, probably none bigger than Twickenham (next up).
“It’s been a big focus and so far we’re very happy with the way we’ve played in the second half.”
Ireland managed three times as many turnovers as Warren Gatland’s Welsh side, the breakdown being an area they really targeted through the likes of Peter O’Mahony, Best and Chris Henry.
Best explained that watching Toby Faletau and Sam Warburton ‘destroy’ the Italians at the ruck area in the opening round highlighted exactly what they had to.
It led to Ireland exerting a physical dominance over Wales, ‘silencing’ a very dangerous back row combination and seeing another step up in class in the performance of the Irish maul.
“The way our maul has been going the last three games has been good. Even at the start of the autumn, against Samoa we mauled them. It’s been a big work-on for us,” added the Ulster forward.
“You look at the way the provinces go – Munster maul everyone, Ulster have started bringing it to the game and Leinster score vital tries there. It can be a real strong point if you can get it right.
“We’ve worked hard on it, it’s something we felt that we could have been a lot better on. By and large, to have scored with it in two games is very encouraging, but it’s definitely something teams are now going to look at Ireland and realise that we’re a lot better at mauling.
“Definitely, when you work on little bits and pieces – little shift-drives – on the training ground and it comes off for a vital try, it’s very encouraging.”
The encouragement may not stop there as Ireland target a Triple Crown-clinching win over England in two weeks’ time. For Best, the hard graft put in during November and December is now coming to fruition.
“With the work through the autumn and the Christmas work, we put in a lot of work on plays, on what we need. We feel we’re adapting.
“I suppose when you’ve half-backs like Conor (Murray) and Jonny (Sexton), then Paulie (O’Connell) driving things in the forwards, you can be adaptable. That again comes back to the pressure Joe has put on us.
“He throw things at us that we hadn’t talked about in the team meeting. He throws different plays at us, different challenges to be mentally tuned in and to be adaptable, so that you come to these games and, depending on what you see or foresee as the team’s strengths and weaknesses, you can go out and exploit that.
“It’s not a bad trait to have, as long as you remain accurate. You want to make sure that you don’t have so many plays that you can’t do any of them well. We need to be able to do every play that we pull out of the bag really, really well.”
The 72-times capped hooker added: “Joe definitely puts a lot of stuff in place, but he also puts pressure on us as players to step up to the mark and do our homework, know what’s going on.
“When you get that balance right, you produce performances like today. Again, we need to make sure that we don’t get too carried away with ourselves. Ultimately, this team and this player group wants more than just two wins in the Championship.”