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Rory Best explains exactly how Andy Farrell has taken Ireland to the brink of history

Ireland could become the first side to win back-to-back Six Nations grand slams

Harry Latham-Coyle
Tuesday 05 March 2024 14:58 GMT
Former Ireland hooker Rory Best was speaking on behalf of Sage ahead of Saturday’s Six Nations clash with England
Former Ireland hooker Rory Best was speaking on behalf of Sage ahead of Saturday’s Six Nations clash with England (Sage/James Robinson)

Rory Best remembers the speech well. It was 2016, and Andy Farrell had just arrived in Ireland to oversee the defence, regathering himself after a bruising World Cup with England. A disaster of a tournament on home soil had seen Stuart Lancaster and his staff sacked – Farrell, still considered a rising star of the coaching ranks, had a reputation to rebuild.

Joe Schmidt gave him an opportunity; in the eight years since, Farrell has most certainly taken it, first as an assistant, and then as the top man himself.

“Andy came in and said, ‘How can we get better? How can I get more from the players both on and off the pitch?’,” recalls Best, Ireland captain at the time of Farrell’s arrival and now a contented observer, speaking on behalf of Sage.

“From the first meeting he ever stood up in front of us as an Ireland team back in 2016, he really inspired us because he has presence but also a real awareness of what each individual needs. A lot of time you sit in team meetings as a player and you are thinking, ‘What do I need to say that they will be happy with?’. He has challenged the squad to move beyond that and say what they think.

Andy Farrell has transformed Ireland into perhaps the finest team in Six Nations history (PA Wire)

“And now the people in that room know what everyone is actually thinking instead of a facade you are putting on. He has done an unbelievable job.”

Farrell’s Ireland stand on the brink of history: no side has ever won back-to-back Six Nations grand slams, an eminently achievable feat with a flawed England to come this weekend before Scotland visit Dublin on Super Saturday. A second successive competition crown could be secured with a round to spare if the Scots are beaten in Rome or a full five points taken away from Twickenham.

Considered in the context of the World Cup woe of the autumn, their progress this campaign has been remarkably smooth. The theory was that Ireland might stumble or struggle as they tried to pick themselves up from familiar tournament disappointment; if anything, they’ve ascended to another level, contrasting sharply with a French side sleeping off a long hangover.

“France have looked like a team that are still licking their wounds,” Best explains. “Whereas Ireland have looked like a team who are mature enough to go, ‘we lost by four points to New Zealand playing the best rugby they had played in four years’. There is comfort you can take from that.

Ireland are seeking back-to-back grand slams under Farrell (Getty)

“I think that is what Andy is able to do, to get them to a place where they just understand how to move forward and be better. He takes a lot of pressure off, shoulders a lot of that burden. I think the really encouraging thing from an Irish point of view is that if they play to the best of their ability, they have too much for every other team in this Six Nations. They will take confidence from that.”

But Ireland will be wary of a wounded England, who have pushed the men in green for long periods in each of the last two years. The problem for Saturday’s hosts has been keeping 15 men on the field, Charlie Ewels’s early sending-off in 2022 allowing Ireland to eventually pull clear against an exhausted English 14 and Freddie Steward’s rather more contentious dismissal a year ago undermining the visitors’ attempts to spoil the Dublin party.

Steve Borthwick’s side once more find themselves at a crossroads, attempting to embed a new defensive system and attacking vision as they bid to build on their World Cup foundations. Best believes that faith in the gameplan will be key if England are to shock Ireland.

Rallying the home troops will be England skipper Jamie George, who namechecked Best as a key influence on his captaincy having struck up a strong relationship with the Ulsterman on the 2017 Lions tour.

Rory Best became good friends with England captain Jamie George on the 2017 Lions tour (PA Wire)

“It’s quite unusual for hookers to come away from a tour still friendly!” says Best. “But I took a lot from him on that tour in how to lead people off the pitch. People want to have Braveheart-style speeches but ultimately, it is about being yourself and how you treat people. There is nobody who treats people better than him.

“People will follow him anywhere and they don’t follow him because of the blood-curdling battle cry but because of his actions. He is a world-class player and a world-class person.

“I think he is going to be so important for England for the next few years. They have a lot of good young players but you need this core of people who have been there and done it and are still playing at the top level. You need that core of players to buy into what Steve Borthwick is about and Jamie is going to be pivotal to that.”

Rory Best was speaking at the launch of a strategic partnership between Sage and Sportable, the tech and insights company behind the smart ball. For more information visit

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