Debutant man of the match CJ Stander insists Ireland can still chase an unprecedented third-consecutive RBS 6 Nations title after drawing 16-16 with Wales in Dublin.
The South Africa-born flanker proved his Test pedigree with a bullocking performance on his Ireland bow, helping Joe Schmidt’s men force a share of the spoils at the Aviva Stadium.
Stander’s impressive ball-carrying and work rate justifiably won him the official man of the match award, with Conor Murray’s try helping Ireland into a 13-0 lead.
Wales hit back through Taulupe Faletau’s try, going 16-13 up, before Johnny Sexton landed a pressure penalty six minutes from time to level the tie.
“It’s points on the board, so we’ll take that and move forward,” Stander told RTE Television.
“Both teams came out and played great rugby.
“I’m proud of the boys to hold on at the end.
“When we had the ball we did some great work, in the first-half we were flying, the second-half we slipped a bit but it was a good effort.
“It’s a good start and we can build on that.”
Ireland could be left to fret on Sexton’s fitness, after the linchpin fly-half left the field with five minutes to play seemingly suffering a chest problem.
Keith Earls and Tommy O’Donnell also left the action for Head Injury Assessments (HIA), so will be scrutinised to see if they suffered concussion.
Ireland were already without 10 injured frontline stars and will be hugely proud of their effort in containing Warren Gatland’s men.
Boss Schmidt had already insisted a mid-table finish would represent success this year given the injury catalogue, but this share of the spoils allows Ireland to remain in the hunt for further success.
Sam Warburton admitted his disappointment after seeing Wales throw away the three-point lead they had worked so hard to build.
He told ITV: “A draw is not really good for anyone as it rules out the Grand Slam and Triple Crown so it means we’ll have to pull another big scalp somewhere down the line to try and win the championship.
“I’m pretty pleased with the way we weathered that storm and pulled back, even after losing Dan (Biggar).”
He added: “The good thing is it’s one of our away games.
“We were so desperate to win and set ourselves up for the tournament but we have three must-win matches now.”
Ireland skipper Rory Best added: “A draw is a hard result to put into words.
“We’re happy we didn’t lose the game and it took character to come back after going behind for the first time with five minutes on the clock.
“There are a lot of positives and we haven’t lost, but we’ll take a quick look back on this to make sure we go forward.
“We can get a lot better but there are a lot of things to be proud of.”