To hear Rory Best dissect Ireland's painful World Cup campaign is akin to listening to someone who has survived a major trauma. It is more than three weeks since Best and Ireland's tournament came to a shuddering halt with a 46-14 quarter-final thrashing by New Zealand, but the wounds are still red raw.

In his first newspaper interview since that day – which also marked his final outing in international and provincial rugby – Best talks repeatedly of the "pressure" he and his team-mates were feeling from the moment they entered their pre-tournament training camp on June 16. He still appears unable to process how a side who had been No 1 in the world, and with memories of beating the All Blacks and a Six Nations Grand Slam fresh in their minds, had capitulated on the biggest stage.

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"You go through waves, at times you feel how nice it is to be home, there are times when it is so nice not to have the pressure," he says. "But then you refresh Instagram and you see pictures of preparations for the semis and finals. Then pictures of the guys with the trophy and that is when it hits you: 'Oh I would love to be still there …' "

Best did all this while on a post-World Cup holiday in Dubai, with wife Jodie and their children Ben, Penny and Richie. Other members of the Ireland squad were also there, "delaying coming back to reality", as Best puts it.


He admits that he and his colleagues had expected a longer stay in Japan. His family flew out before Ireland's final pool game against Samoa and his children's school were not expecting them back until after Halloween – meaning Ireland saw the final four as their minimum expectation.

Rory Best shares a word with Steve Hansen after the defeat. Photo / Photosport
Rory Best shares a word with Steve Hansen after the defeat. Photo / Photosport

It all helps explain the origins of the "pressure" that Best refers to, although it flowed from multiple sources. Best speaks both of dreading being "grilled" by people back home as to why the side fell short, but also of the pressure being internal, and coming from departed head coach Joe Schmidt.

"No one was more gutted than we were to be going out at the quarter-final stage," he says. "It was good to get time [in Dubai] with just the other players who were there. We all knew what each other was going through.

"It was like we were almost venting the frustration of not being there. We did it almost in a jokey way, but it was good not to go back straight away to where everybody on the street is grilling you about it and what went wrong. Really, I don't know, I need to take time to think about it and dissect it.

"Joe had got us to a stage where we expected to win. He had also brought the supporters along. But they expect us to win, it is no longer about a great effort. We are expected to win and so much of that is internal, especially when you are away so far [from Ireland], you don't hear that much of what is going on at home. I just think the pressure was on us.

"Obviously that is ramped up as a World Cup is only every four years. At a Six Nations, if you don't get it quite right, you can dust yourself down and go again in 12 months. But by the time another World Cup comes along, who knows how many players from our squad will still be there?

"That is pressure you put on yourself. For me, I knew it was my last shot and for others it is another four years, which is a lifetime in rugby."

Beauden Barrett of New Zealand celebrates scoring against Ireland. Photo / Getty
Beauden Barrett of New Zealand celebrates scoring against Ireland. Photo / Getty

Best is quick to quash rumours that Schmidt's rigorous attention to detail created tension in the Ireland camp, as some have suggested.


"There was a big perception in the media that the camp wasn't happy and I think the Irish media in particular were trying to pile more pressure on us because we had a poor Six Nations," Best insists. "That is because of the standards we set in 2018 and the fact we didn't quite reach them.

"We were doing everything we could to make sure we performed and we fell short. We got ourselves on the wrong side of the draw because we didn't perform the way we wanted to against Japan.

"It is easier for me because I am finishing up and I don't have to worry about post-mortems and having to go into a December camp where we need to improve and try to be a part of that. I can now step away and I don't have any regrets about anything because, if you live your life with regrets, you won't sleep for the rest of your life."

Ireland captain Rory Best walks off the field to All Blacks applause after the defeat. Photo / Photosport
Ireland captain Rory Best walks off the field to All Blacks applause after the defeat. Photo / Photosport

Best's process of moving on continues this week as he touches down in London on Monday to take part in the Barbarians three-match tour. It begins with Saturday's fixture against Fiji at Twickenham, before an exotic foray to Sao Paulo to face Brazil and then finishing up in the more familiar surrounds of Cardiff for a match-up with Wales in the Principality Stadium.

Best is excited about working with Eddie Jones, who is coaching the Barbarians. The 37-year-old is close friends with the likes of Joe Marler, James Haskell, Tom and Ben Youngs, courtesy of time spent together on Lions tours, and conversations with them have led him to become "intrigued" by the England head coach.

"I have only ever met Eddie briefly at Six Nations launches or had short chats after games. There has been nothing in terms of what he is like around a team environment," he says. "The England boys I am friends with give you a very good insight and talk so fondly of him and I would perceive they love him as a coach.

"I knew post-World Cup I didn't want to continue with a club, but I also knew – barring injury – that I would be in perfect shape to go to what I perceive the Barbarians to be. It's a throwback to why you play rugby – the enjoyment and the craic."

Best has certainly earned some of that.