• Captain dismisses Autumn internationals as ‘friendlies’
• ‘We have to play at a higher level than we did in November’
Signs of weakness were thin on the ground in the Ireland camp on Friday. In response to Eddie Jones’s somewhat half-hearted attempt to turn the pressure up on the Six Nations champions – “praise can make you weak” – the Ireland captain, Rory Best, quipped back: “It’s maybe the lack of praise from Joe behind closed doors that protects us.”
Ireland like to talk about the “bubble” that Joe Schmidt creates. It shields them from the praise Jones referred to. And in fairness there has been a certain bullishness in Dublin this week. The former head coach Eddie O’Sullivan believes only two members of England’s side would get into Ireland’s while the former captain Brian O’Driscoll thinks Saturday’s home side will have “too many smarts” for a “shaky” England team.
“[The expectation] puts a little bit more pressure on in terms of it squeezes that bubble a little bit tighter but there is a massive amount of expectation that we put on ourselves in everything we do,” Best said. “If you look at Leinster and the way they are going, their expectation is to continue to get better. They’ve won four European trophies now, they’re looking to win five and that is probably the mentality of this generation of Irish rugby players. And that’s the expectation that we carry within ourselves.”
In a further demonstration of Ireland’s mindset, according to Best the November internationals are, in effect, friendlies and the World Cup can wait. The first of those is some claim considering Ireland’s two victories against New Zealand in their past three meetings have come during the autumn, the most recent just a few months ago. He went a step further, insisting Ireland will have to produce their most accomplished performance since Schmidt took over in 2013 – and there have been plenty – in order to beat England.