The build-up wasn’t without its hiccups and the performance wasn’t without its imperfections, but Andy Farrell hailed Ireland’s bonus-point 34-10 win over Wales in front of a 73,931 attendance as a dream start
“If you’d have given us a bonus-point win here at the start of the competition, we’d have probably snatched your hand off but at the same time, the best thing about it is that there’s plenty to do and fix and get better with. So, it’s not a bad place to be.”
“As we all know, this is a really tough place to start the campaign. But the good thing about it, in my opinion, there’s a lot of things we could have used as an excuse over the last 12 days, but I said to you in Portugal that our preparation had been top drawer. It really has. We got what we deserved at the end of the day. It’s a tough place to come and our history says exactly that.
“The way that we galvanised together as a group is testament to how we go about our work in preparation for this Test match,” said Farrell, after a win gained despite the loss of Tadhg Furlong during the week and both Jamison Gibson-Park and Cian Healy around “midmorning” before the 2.15pm kick-off.
“I thought our composure in the first half was great. I thought we were pretty clinical in taking our chances. Our defence at times was going after them but it wasn’t letting them play the game that they want to play, and they want to play pretty expansive to be fair to them. Offloading the ball and they looked dynamic and strong but our scramble defence was outstanding, especially in the first half on our own line, etc. But funnily enough, the first 20 minutes of the second half wasn’t great and a lot of it was our own downfall with how we played and our discipline. But how we came out of that showed some good resilience and we kept playing right to the end. We should have or could have had one or two more, so it was pretty pleasing.”
The nature of the injuries to Gibson-Park and Healy, rumoured to have both been ruled out with hamstring issues, were not divulged, although they must be doubtful for next Saturday’s meeting with France at the Aviva Stadium.
“We’ll find out tomorrow. We’ll see,” said Farrell. “That’s the strength of the group coming through. Guys like Johnny [Sexton], there’s three or four of them that’s not played any rugby for a long time, two or three injuries during the week as well, and what happened this morning could have unsettled a side, but there’s no excuse for us. We prepare as a group, we prepare as a squad of 37/38, and we expect ourselves to perform. That’s what we did.”
[ Wales v Ireland player ratings: Keenan, Sheehan and Doris lead the way in Cardiff ]
Having played just one game since the November tests, Sexton admitted: “I don’t think I’ve ever been as nervous as I was before a game. For lots of reasons, but the main one was I’d forgotten what it was like to do a build-up. I’d had one game on New Year’s Day since South Africa and I got injured in that.
“I trained hard, made some mistakes in training but you want to train well and then hopefully you get a few less on Saturday.
“We came a bit unstuck in the third quarter, we just need to look at that and see what we can do better. We’ll get through it and see how we are next week.”
The Irish captain was particularly happy with how Ireland started the game.
“It was everything we spoke about during the week in terms of our accuracy, in terms of our discipline when they had the ball we were really good. Then we let that slide in the third quarter, we gave them four or five penalties on the bounce. What we spoke about at half-time was discipline.”
At this point, Farrell interrupted him by quipping: “Good coaching, they all listened very well.”
“We just did the opposite,” added Sexton. “I think the coaches said, ‘Don’t give away any penalties’ and all we heard was ‘penalties.” So we gave away some silly penalties but I thought the ref did really well ...
[ Wales v Ireland: Ill-discipline takes shine off dominant Irish display ]
“It’s what you want, you want the ref to be strict.
“When we had the ball at the start he was reffing the team without it, when they had the ball he was reffing us at the start of the second-half.
“Fair play to him, it’s tough to come here and ref in that crowd and then keep making the right decisions like he was. Fair play to him.”
Sexton also admitted that he did carry some concerns about his cheekbone injury, and ensuing operation, into the match.
“A little bit, I slipped off one or two tackles trying to go a little bit lower so I went back to tackling higher in the second half.
“It can be in the back of your mind, I tested it during the week, did some contact with Simon Easterby. I felt good, was confident and I got a good whack in the first-half and it was OK. I tested it out as well.”
Sexton was replaced by Ross Byrne before the 70-minute mark after some discussions with referee Karl Dickosn.
“I was just trying to get the physio. I had a dead-leg, wanted to get it strapped up but he said I needed to come off for a HIA. I said I just needed to see a physio and get a quad strapped. That was the confusion.
I went off, did my HIA. I’m fine.”
As for his calf, which was his issue in November, Sexton said: “I just got a dead leg on my knee.”