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The match is the soon-to-retire Rory Best’s last Test in Dublin and Rob Kearney believes the hooker’s stint as Ireland captain has been “undervalued”. Ulster stalwart Best has led Ireland to a Six Nations Grand Slam and his nation’s maiden two victories over New Zealand in just three years as Test skipper.
Best’s stewardship came under intense fire in the wake of Ireland’s record 57-15 loss to England at Twickenham on August 24. But the evergreen 37-year-old hooker impressed off the bench as Ireland edged out Wales 22-17 in Cardiff last weekend, reasserting his authority, and has since been confirmed as boss Joe Schmidt’s World Cup captain.
Now Leinster full-back Kearney has backed Best as the “glue” that can bind Ireland together in their bid to push past the World Cup’s quarter-finals for the first time in the Japanese tournament that kicks off later this month.
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Asked to evaluate Best’s leadership, Kearney replied: “It’s huge, isn’t it? And sometimes I think it gets a bit undervalued, his win rate and what he has achieved. Some of the momentous victories we’ve had as a team have been under Rory. He’s a brilliant leader, he’s the glue that brings the team together a lot.
“Again, he’s a guy who is training really well and I’m sure he’s very excited to get out there and demonstrate that he’s still hugely capable of producing big performances, even at his ripe old age.”
Best will retire after the World Cup in Japan and will make his final Ireland turn at the Aviva Stadium when winning his 120th cap in the warm-up clash with Wales. Ireland’s last World Cup warm-up fixture also represents head coach Schmidt’s final Test at the helm in Dublin, with the 53-year-old Kiwi stepping down after the World Cup.
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Kearney admitted Ireland would love to hand both men the perfect Dublin send-off, but insisted that cannot cloud preparations. Ireland will launch their World Cup by facing Scotland in Yokohama on September 22, with Kearney hoping Schmidt’s men can take another leap forward in form this weekend.
Asked how keen the Ireland squad are to help Best and Schmidt sign off in style in Dublin, Kearney said: “Obviously it’s very important but it’s not at the forefront of our minds. Performance is huge for us this week and even if you scale back the performance, it’s putting it into blocks; the first 10 minutes, the second 10 minutes, and so on.
“If we can look after all those mini blocks and win all those moments, the performance and victory will look after itself. And then you get to enjoy and feel proud of giving Joe and Rory the big send-off. Facing Scotland in round one in Japan, it’s a different make-up from how the pool games fell for us four years ago. We really need to ensure we’re firing at all cylinders for that first week, so this weekend is a big step for us.
Having watched Ireland get torn asunder by England, the legendary Brian O'Driscoll has stated his preferred midfield partnership for the World Cup
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) August 27, 2019
“That’s the biggest game of the pool probably for us. And we know that Scotland are starting to brim nicely, they got a good win over France at home. So facing Wales at home this weekend, it’s also a perfect Test for us; it’s as tough as it gets.
“The guys last week made a big step in terms of the team’s confidence. To get a win on the board away from home was big for us. We’ve trained really well this week which will give us another lift in confidence. But performance-wise now we need to take another big step.”
Wales skipper Alun Wyn Jones agreed performance was important with Warren Gatland’s squad itching to jet out to Japan for their World Cup opener against Georgia on September 23. “It has been a hectic week but we have still got a Test match to prepare for and we have done that; this game is good World Cup prep,” said Jones.
Has a small in stature Wales back row got what it takes to beat the world at the World Cup in Japan?
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) September 6, 2019
“We’re ready to play, without dwelling on the week – this is another game of rugby. There’s a bit of a lay-off after this before we take the field competitively, so this game is a good chance to see where we are. We’ll focus on the opportunity to play.”
Jones was rested for last weekend’s loss in Cardiff, missing out on boss Gatland’s last match in charge at the Principality Stadium. Now the Ospreys star cannot wait to sink his teeth back into Test action, after Wales named their 31-man World Cup squad last weekend.
“It was disappointing not to be involved in Warren’s last game at home,” said Jones. “But it’s still an occasion here, with Rory Best and Joe Schmidt’s last one in Dublin. For us it’s more the start of the World Cup prep. We have got this game before we go out so it’s more the start of things for us.”
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