Andy Farrell maintained his Ireland side remained a work in progress after an encouraging 31-16 Autumn Nations Cup victory over Scotland in Dublin on Saturday.
Ireland’s win in this third-place play-off brought down the curtain on Farrell’s first 12 months as head coach and ensured his team ended 2020 on a high after a sometimes difficult year since succeeding Joe Schmidt.
Farrell had come under pressure from some quarters of the media for the recent losses away to France and England, compounded by a laboured win over Georgia at the Aviva Stadium six days ago but this win will have raised spirits just nine weeks ahead of the 2021 Guinness Six Nations.
Two tries from wing Keith Earls and another from Cian Healy helped overturn an early 9-3 deficit built off a strong Scottish opening to the contest. It provided the head coach with a sixth win in his ninth game in charge, using more than 40 players, handing out 11 Test debuts and losing several players to injuries.
Asked where Ireland stood after it all, Farrell replied: “A work in progress, as I suppose it should always be.
“It’s well documented about the number of players we’ve used and a few injuries along the way, that’s influenced that but at the same time we’ve grown the group.
“We’ve had a pretty diverse group during this time as far as maturity, age-wise, regarding international rugby. I felt that gap has really closed and we’ve made some massive learnings from that and that sends a massive statement overall.”
A number of Ireland players on show against Scotland, including Earls, are out of contract next summer with the IRFU saying talks on new deals would not begin until January owing to ongoing financial uncertainty as the Covid-19 pandemic continues to keep supporters out of Irish stadia.
Farrell spoke of his admiration for the players managing to stay focused on the task at hand.
“It’s a credit to them. In fact, as a head coach I speak to the guys and see where they’re at, I’ve not heard any murmurs at all regarding apprehension or them being frightened about the future etc.
“The attitude, the togetherness of the players, the want to get better, the want to learn, has been amazing, That would be the biggest thing for me coming out of this period, which stands us in massive good stead.”
Ireland will hope to have a number of players back in time for the opening game of 2021 against Wales on February 7, including Tadhg Furlong, Dan Leavy, Garry Ringrose and Jordan Larmour but there were some fresh injury worries from the Scotland game, the most serious of which appears to be concerning Ulster captain and second row Iain Henderson.
"Hendy will be going for a scan tomorrow,” Farrell said, “he had a knee injury but obviously it's hard to assess straight after a game. He'll be off for a scan in the morning and we'll know more then.
"We had a couple of HIAs (Head Injury Assessments), James Ryan came off for a HIA and Pete came off but went back on. So not too bad. Johnny (Sexton) had a dead leg so we'll see how Hendy is tomorrow."