Andy Farrell has insisted that his Ireland team has “only just started” after claiming its first silverware since he became the top man.
Saturday night’s 26-5 defeat of Scotland at the Aviva Stadium earned the home side a first Triple Crown since the Grand Slam campaign of 2018 and took them to the top of the table prior to France’s bid for a clean sweep and title win against England in Paris.
“I’m absolutely delighted for the players and all who have been involved for eight weeks and the staff,” Farrell told Virgin TV.
Ireland have not played their best rugby in this tournament. Not across the course of one 80-minute period anyway. Look at their campaign in its entirety and they may have shown their best on day one against the Welsh in Dublin and even that was far from perfect.
That said, nothing trumps the final table when it comes to the Six Nations and Ireland found themselves sitting atop of it once their work was done, with a Triple Crown in the bag, and hoping against hope that England could spring a surprise in France later in the evening.
Farrell was complimentary of the Scots, not least their physicality, double-team tackles and nuisance value at the breakdown but the fact that Ireland, lauded for their attacking rugby to date, eked out wins despite thorny resistance from England and Scotland in recent weeks is no small thing.
“We have shown that we can play some really good rugby and scored quite a few tries but we have also shown in the last few weeks that we have got some grit and some nerve to stay calm and take the game right to the death and get the bonus-point win," said Farrell.
“Disappointed not to be in with a chance of winning a Grand Slam but we dusted ourselves off after the disappointment in Paris and got back on the horse and that’s all you can ask for. Three bonus-point wins on the trot is some achievement.”
Johnny Sexton was similarly positive after a campaign that delivered 24 tries for and just a quartet against and all the while in the knowledge that the side has not really played to anything like its potential. Or to the quality shown against New Zealand last November.
“It’s a good place to be, isn’t it? Three bonus-point wins in a row after bouncing back from the loss in Paris and to do that, I am very proud of this team and everyone on it. It is a good place to be because there is so much more in us,” said the captain.
“We have to keep driving it home. We will enjoy tonight but we have the biggest test in rugby now with a lot of games down in New Zealand so we will have to be a lot better in the next year-and-a-half and that’s what all our focus is on.”
Sexton is a veteran’s veteran. There is little in the game that has not passed his desk at the age of 36 so it was curious to hear him volunteer the fact that he had never been more nervous for a game than for this latest test. Why so?
“It’s a very tight bunch,” he explained. “We have come from some low times. It’s only a few years ago we were being written off. The coach was being written off, the captain was being written off and the team was being written off. It’s pretty fickle, sport, isn’t it?
“So we will keep our feet grounded because we know how fickle it is. I’m just proud to be part of this group. Yeah, it is a very special atmosphere in here now.”