New Ireland captain Rory Best has vowed to lead Ireland’s mental approach in the absence of hugely-influential former skipper Paul O’Connell, now retired from Test rugby.
Ulster captain and Ireland’s most-capped hooker, Best insisted Ireland can cope without a raft of injured frontline stars as they make final preparations for their opening Six Nations game against Wales in Dublin on Sunday.
None of Ireland’s provinces have qualified for the European Champions Cup quarter-finals, but Best argued that provincial form is no barometer for Test success.
The 33-year-old also set out his uncompromising leadership stall with a warning for Ireland’s new and inexperience stars - hit the desired standard straight away, or face being shipped out.
“It’s important for Irish rugby that the provinces go well but it doesn’t necessarily go hand in hand with the success of the international team,” said Best.
“When we met two weeks ago we were meeting a team and a squad that has high standards and expectations.
“The first thing that Joe (Schmidt) always says is that we take a glance back to go forward, but we don’t stand and wait.
“If you can’t keep up, we’ll find someone who can.
“That’s the level we drive to.”
Best admitted the final 24 hours before a Test match leave rugby’s top stars at once wishing the time away for kick-off, and yet itching to drink in all the colour.
“The hardest thing is just to make sure you enjoy the next 24 hours,” said Best.
“It’s almost the worst 24 hours because it takes so long, when you’re in this environment, because all you want to do is play the game.
“But speaking to various people, like my brother, who’ve stopped playing, from the outside, the nerves, the butterflies, that’s what you miss once you’ve retired.
“You miss this, the day before the international, being in the city, the build-up around it.
“To be involved in that and to be captain, it’s important that you live the moment enough to enjoy this little window.”
Ireland are bidding to become the first nation to win three striaght outright championships in a row.