Johnny Sexton: ‘Two years ago we would have lost that game’

Andy Farrell: ‘If you said this before the game, we would have snatched your hand off’

Despite some decidedly edgy moments, Andy Farrell declared himself "over the moon" after Ireland kept their Triple Crown and Six Nations title hopes alive by eventually recording their biggest win and highest points total over England at Twickenham.

“If you said this before the game, we would have snatched your hand off,” said the Ireland head coach.

“It’s a tough place to come and we were under a bit of pressure in that second half for a while, and some of that was our own doing. But the composure that we showed at 15-15 to stick to our task and come away with the bonus point was something we should be immensely proud of.

“We learned a lot about ourselves. We’ve been here before and been under pressure. Different aspects of our game have not gone well before and the game has run away with itself, and we’ve been on an early flight back.

“This time around, the crowd were behind them, momentum was going their way, and sometimes when you’ve got 14 men, you’ve got nothing to lose. Sometimes when you’ve got 15 men playing against 14 men, you’ve got everything to lose.

“We became a little bit desperate at times and a little bit inaccurate at times, but having said that, you take the rough with the smooth. We came away with a brilliant victory in the end.

“I thought the lads were really calm while under pressure, stayed on task, and thoroughly deserved that bonus point in the end.”

It was a theme which the captain Johnny Sexton, on his last game in Twickenham, also turned to when going so far as to declare: "Two years ago we would have lost that game. At 15-15, we wouldn't have had the composure to regroup, but the mental skills development that we've done over the last couple of years really stood to us. Even in the week, we prepared for things like this.

“That the positive out of it. What do you learn? When things can distract you like a team going to 14 men, you need to focus on doing the basics really well.

“At times, we just forced a couple of things. Those things were on so it was probably execution more than decision-making. At other times, we didn’t play. We tried to kick the ball or didn’t shift it to the edge where the space was.

“There’s a lot to take out of it and we’ll build towards next week now.

“We have a chance to win a Triple Crown at home in the Aviva. We very rarely have had a chance to play for something in front of our home crowd. Often when we have, it’s been away from home,” added Sexton, who’d noted this rare opportunity to win silverware in Dublin on the final day before the tournament even started, bearing in mind the Grand Slams of 2009 and 2018 were sealed in London either side of the 2014 and 2015 title wins in Paris and Edinburgh.

“There’s a big week ahead of us but we’ll learn plenty. It will be all focused on Scotland.”

Sexton also believes that if Ireland do beat Scotland, then there is every chance England could deny France the Grand Slam and so win the Championship as well.

“I think England have a great chance, they always do. England are England, one of the most dominant teams in world rugby, World Cup finalists and they’re rebuilding now but still beat Australia and South Africa recently. England can do a lot of damage next week,” said Sexton, who admitted “we didn’t get the performance we wanted during the game but we got glimpses off it.”

Mathieu Raynal had sent off Peter O'Mahony in the first half of the opening defeat away to Wales last season, but as Ireland's performance proved that day it is possible to win with 14 men, or at any rate certainly remain competitive until the end.

“We started the game well and were cutting them open with 15 men,” said Farrell, adding: “Subconsciously at 14 men there is space and some of the rugby was outstanding, line break after line break, and it was the forced pass really. We had to calm down, trust ourselves and recycle four phases and go from there.

“Their setpiece was outstanding, and our discipline creaked a bit so continuity was hard to come by in middle third of the game and that’s what you want down to 14. They spoiled parts of our game really well and credit to them. The pressure they put on lineout time was there for everyone to see.”

But by some distance the most disconcerting aspect of Ireland’s performance was the scrum, where they conceded six penalties in a 15-9 penalty count – figures that would normally lead to a defeat.

“You can see the lads asking questions and looking for answers. They want the game to keep going. It is what it is. We’ll go through the channels and see whose fault it is and if it is ours we will adjust.

“This is what happens in Test rugby, you’re under pressure in all sorts of different areas. And they put us under the cosh. But from 15-15, you know what you could tell they were calm and we knew it wasn’t beyond them to get the win.

“It was a crazy old game. Test matches are never perfect, that’s why they’re called Test matches. The quality of sides make it so. If you paid good money to be here, you’d be happy. We spoke during the week of trying to make our supporters singing at the end.”

And that they did.

The most worrying sight of the day was undoubtedly James Ryan being forced off in the second minute with concussion as a result of the head-to-head hit by Charlie Ewels which earned him the earliest red card in Championship history.

“James couldn’t return,” said Farrell, adding: “He is fine and celebrating with the lads and he will go through the protocols again.”

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