‘When I first came into the squad, it was a real rarity that we’d beat them’

WHEN RORY BEST first started playing for Ireland, back in 2005, the national team’s record against France wasn’t too impressive.

There were three wins from four in between 2000 and 2003, kick-started by Brian O’Driscoll’s famous hat-trick in Paris, but the habit of losing to les Bleus had returned by the time Best was making his Test debut.

Cian Healy and Best wrap up Sébastien Vahaamahina in 2014. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

From 2005 until 2011, Ireland won just once in 10 clashes with the French.

Draws followed in 2012 and 2013, but Joe Schmidt’s side have won three of the four most recent meetings, including the gripping Six Nations-clinching victory at Stade de France three years ago.

“I think the French are definitely a team that you’ve got to fear in terms of their rugby ability,” said Best this afternoon, following his team’s captain’s run at the Aviva Stadium ahead of tomorrow’s Six Nations clash [KO 4.50pm].

“Probably when I first came into the squad, it was a real rarity that we’d beat them. Obviously, now we’ve won in some fairly crucial games in recent years, but they swung the momentum back last year in getting the win.

“We play the French teams a lot more often now, there are more French teams in Europe than ever, so people are a bit more used to playing them. We know them a lot better than we used to, but I just think there’s a different mindset to playing for Ireland now than there was 12 years ago.

“We firmly believe we can beat anyone on our day. Over the last two to three years, we’ve realised what consistency is, and it’s not just consistency of performance on the pitch.

“That comes from the consistency of our preparation throughout the week. That’s something that we’ve really driven hard, probably since Joe came in.”

So, as Ireland face into what is essentially a knock-out tie against Guy Novès’ side, there is belief. The Scotland defeat in round one left them in a poor position, but a bonus-point win in Italy brought Schmidt’s men back into contention.

Best missed that tie in Rome due to a stomach bug, but returns to lead the side tomorrow.

Best is hoping for dry conditions for his throwing. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

“When it’s illness as well it’s even more frustrating,” said Best of missing out last time. “Because by Sunday evening and certainly Monday I felt a whole lot better.

“Niall Scannell came in and did very well though, so that’s why we build the squad and why we put such trust in the squad. It happened to us a few years ago with Paulie pulling out on the morning of the game, Jamie pulling out on the morning of the game.

“Every time that happens someone steps up, and that’s how we prepare.”

Also returning for Ireland tomorrow is out-half Johnny Sexton, another key leader for Schmidt’s side.

Best pointed out that Sexton is fresh and hungry, while his demands on those around him haven’t dipped. Paddy Jackson has performed well for Ireland, but there is expectation of more to come from Sexton in the 10 shirt.

“Johnny’s a world-class 10 and to have him come back in is great,” said Best. “The way Paddy’s performed he’s really shown himself as a quality out-half. It’s a great dilemma to have as a player’s point of view to know you have that cover.

“A few years ago there was probably a fear if Johnny went down we’d be in dire straits, but to have someone like Jacko, a lot his performances have come off the back of learning from Johnny.

“There’s competition, but everyone helps each other out a bit. To have Johnny back is a big lift, but also to know that Jacko’s there as well, that a great reassurance to have.”

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