Jamie Heaslip is confident Rory Best is the right man to lead Ireland and will prove his worth as the pressure builds heading into the Rugby World Cup.
Captain Best’s role has come under scrutiny this year as Ireland have failed to build on an outstanding 2018 in which they won the Six Nations Grand Slam and then defeated world champions New Zealand.
Joe Schmidt’s men finished third in the 2019 Six Nations and then, in last week’s World Cup warm-up, crashed to a record loss against England.
But 95-cap former Ireland international Heaslip, who played with Best, is confident the skipper will take the right approach following that reverse, calmly rallying the side as they face Wales in consecutive weeks before travelling to the tournament in Japan.
Best has confirmed he will retire from professional rugby following the World Cup.
“Rory’s come in for a lot of criticism, particularly over the last week,” Heaslip, a Land Rover ambassador, told Omnisport.
42 – Ireland’s 42 point defeat is the fourth heaviest in their Test history, their three heavier defeats all came against New Zealand, most recently in 2012 (0-60). Slump.
— OptaJonny (@OptaJonny) August 24, 2019
“But you look back at his tenure now – I think it’s three years he’s been captain – and the success of that team while he’s been at the helm.
“Ireland have beaten every Tier 1 nation in the last two years. That type of consistency shows the leadership he’s obviously showing day in day out in that camp.
“He would have been disappointed with his own performance last week and will be very eager to get another opportunity – just like every other player in that matchday squad from last week – to showcase what he can do on the field.
“And I would imagine his leadership qualities are coming out in full force this week, in terms of being up against it and the performance not being good enough.
“They were exploited by the other team, the pressure is starting to pile up, and it takes a really calm, level-headed person – just like Rory is – to this week get the players together and focus on the new task.
“He will captain them in that way. That’s where Rory will show his real value to the team.”
It’s all part of the master plan !In fairness, first run out for a lot of the team, so mistakes expected. There was a lot of prep put in no doubt but looks like they just need to get up to match speed.The pressure will definitely build on them but they’ll be better next outing.
— jamie heaslip (@jamieheaslip) August 24, 2019
Heaslip is not overly concerned by the team’s form either, with the exception of a “one-off” against England, and believes performance levels are not too far from where they were last year.
“I think they’re in the exact same position [as in 2018], if I’m honest,” he said. “Less than 12 months ago, everyone was saying these guys were going to win the World Cup after beating New Zealand.
“If you actually look at the games, the margin of winning and losing is so fine.
“You look at the first game of 2018, straight out of the gate, they don’t score any tries, kick all the points, France score a try against them, and if it wasn’t for a 41-phase drop goal effort from the halfway line – you couldn’t write this stuff – they don’t win the Six Nations, they don’t win the Grand Slam.
“In 2019, you could say the same thing where the margin for the opposition to win the game is not that big. The margin for losing at international level is so fine.
“I think Ireland have actually been very consistent over the last 18 months, two years, the past World Cup cycle even. I think they’re in exactly the same position. They’re a bloody good team.”
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