Rory Best has admitted Ireland’s players “haven’t delivered on promises” as he attempted to ease pressure on boss Joe Schmidt before Saturday’s critical clash with Italy.
Captain Best insisted Ireland’s squad must shoulder the burden after the reigning RBS 6 Nations champions slipped to three matches without a win in this year’s tournament.
Head coach Schmidt defended his full-strength team selection as not “overly conservative” on Thursday, before Best attempted to shift focus away from the coaching team.
Uncapped prop Finlay Bealham has replaced hamstring injury victim Cian Healy on Ireland’s bench for Saturday’s Dublin clash, with hooker Best challenging his side to lift scrutiny on Schmidt with a first victory since the autumn’s World Cup.
“As a player group we don’t feel we need to win the game to assert the authority there,” said Best, when asked if victory over Italy would reaffirm boss Schmidt’s coaching quality.
“And when you’re in this environment you realise how well prepared we are.
“I’ve been around a few coaching set-ups with Ulster and Ireland and this is one of the best coaching set-ups I’ve been involved in with any team.
“Obviously everyone picks stuff apart on results, but we know the preparation we’re getting. And we know that at times as players we haven’t delivered on promises that we make to each other during the week.
“So from that point of view a result would go a long way to helping everyone in terms of really bedding us into international rugby.
“But in terms of the coaching ticket, it’s always nice to get a win and that’s ultimately what we’re here to do.”
After drawing with Wales and losing to France and England respectively, Ulster hooker Best insisted Schmidt’s squad can rediscover “the real Ireland” against Italy this weekend, despite warning against taking the Azzurri lightly.
“They will be thinking this is their big opportunity to get a scalp, and that in itself produces extra pressure on us,” said Best. “But I’m very sure the boys will stand up tomorrow. There has been a bit of a steep learning curve for some players.”