Ireland captain Rory Best hailed “a very important” victory over Scotland on Saturday as the 2018 Grand Slam winners got their Guinness Six Nations title defence back on track with a 22-13 win at Murrayfield.
Ireland had been in must-win territory following their opening-round defeat at home to England seven days previously but they got their act together with three tries to Scotland’s one to kick-start their campaign.
“I think it was very important,” Best said. “If you lose two games you're dead and buried. We'll have to rely on other people which isn't where you want to be. But if we hadn't won today, we were definitely out of it.
“It was important to get the result. Obviously we wanted to improve in certain areas, physically, and we wanted to play a lot more like ourselves.
“We can be better, we can play more rugby, and I'm sure Joe will touch on that when we meet up again. With 15 minutes to go there was an opportunity to go for four tries but we couldn't get the sustained pressure.”
That Ireland won without playing their best and after losing World Player of the Year to a failed Head Injury Assessment after just 23 minutes spoke volumes for the resilience of a side humbled physically in Dublin just a week earlier by England.
Tries from Conor Murray and Jacob Stockdale had given them a 12-3 lead only for Sexton’s replacement Joey Carbery to throw a pass intercepted by Finn Russell which Sam Johnson touched down, the conversion from Greig Laidlaw leaving Ireland with just a 12-10 half-time lead.
Carbery more than atoned for his error after the interval, his midfield break and long pass out wide to an unmarked Keith Earls for the third try proving the decisive moment in the game.
Best praised Carbery’s ability and the fly-half’s composure to recover from his earlier mistake and make such a big impact on the contest.
“He's benefiting greatly from being down at Munster,” Best said “He grew into the game and some of the things you see him doing, he makes something out of nothing.
"When you lose a world class player like Johnny, for it not to go badly, that's what you need from Joey. To recover from that intercept, he just bounced back because he is a cool customer.”
Ireland boss Joe Schmidt said he thought Sexton may have been stamped on by one of his team-mates before a heavy landing minutes later ended his participation.
“He copped a stamp, yeah. I don’t even think it was a Scottish foot. I think it was one of our guys who tripped over him,” Schmidt said.
“I think that was the first knock and then he got another knock after that so it was a little bit cumulative really. And he got a stamp on the ankle and it was really when they were going to treat that that they just decided he wasn’t 100 per cent and they needed to do an HIA and then he didn’t pass the HIA.
“He hit the ground quite hard but he’s pretty good now so we’d be pretty confident that he will bounce back pretty quickly.
"And we’re always going to err on the side of caution with those, just because we want to look after people."
Asked if Sexton’s knock was a consequence of his involvements in the thick of the action, Schmidt replied: “Because he is who he is, that’s going to happen. He probably knew he was only playing 20 minutes so he tried to jam it all into one quarter. He certainly got into a few contact situations and his pass-release to get Jacob into that space in the set-play was perfect.
“The (Scottish) guy probably could have got to Jacob if he wasn't that intent on getting at Johnny, so sometimes that works to our advantage.”