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Ireland survive onslaught but tougher tests await

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Johnny Sexton. Photo: Sportsfile

Johnny Sexton. Photo: Sportsfile

SPORTSFILE

Johnny Sexton. Photo: Sportsfile

Andy Farrell's first steps as Ireland head coach may not have had the surefootedness of a mountain goat, but neither did be walk into a sinkhole. Or rather his team didn't fall into the abyss, which he then would have had to explain.

After Ireland's 19-12 win over Scotland at a full Aviva Stadium yesterday the coach was asked if he was relieved. They had finished the game on their line, defending a seven-point lead.

"I wouldn't say relief," he claimed. "I was delighted to get the win. I thought we thoroughly deserved the win although I thought Scotland were great. It was good Test match. It was a tough old Test match, first up. It was very attritional."

He got that right. Garry Ringrose needed a hand x-ray and missed the second half. Debutant Caelan Doris had his lights dimmed inside a few minutes - the end of his day - and replacement Dave Kilcoyne was barely on the field for Cian Healy when he was off again, also with head issues. With Wales coming here on Saturday the window is tight on getting players fit.

At least Farrell will be overseeing that with four points in the bag.

Scotland coach Gregor Townsend is left to reflect on a horrendous error by his captain Stuart Hogg who, with Ireland leading 13-6 in the second half, dropped the ball over the try-line under no pressure.

"He has played rugby a long time, so he knows you make mistakes," Townend said. "To me, you shouldn't be ranking mistakes, whether someone drops the ball over the try-line or in their own 22, it's an error that you flush and move on.

"I thought he was outstanding on the field today. I thought his energy, his decision-making and his kicking was excellent, and he's led the team really well the last two weeks. We'll work to get better as a group and Stuart will bounce back very quickly from that."

The only try went to Ireland's new captain Johnny Sexton, who also kicked five from six off the tee.

CJ Stander, moved from eight to six in a very significant selection, found himself restored to the middle of the back row from where he won the man of the match award.

"I thought he was great," Farrell said of the Stander. "I think CJ's performance just epitomised what the whole pack was doing for one another. I thought Josh van der Flier made great yards in attack as well. When you see Tadhg Furlong with his head up and struggling to get over the gain-line and then suddenly he's got three players on his back I think you can see the fight that's throughout the pack. Iain Henderson worked himself to the bone. I thought Rob Herring was really, really good. I thought the pack were terrific."

Farrell, however, was also keen to single out Sexton for individual praise.

"I can elaborate because he won't," added the coach of his captain.

"He hadn't done any rugby training, any team training at all until we touched down in Portugal (ten days ago). He was out for about nine weeks.

"For him not to touch a ball or fight in anger until Thursday of this week says it all about the guy, and with all the pressures of leading his country, dealing with coming back from injury. And to put in a performance like that and lead his country like he did, well hats off to him."

Sunday Indo Sport