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Irish showed character but there's plenty to work on, admits Farrell

Ireland 19 Scotland 12


Hands on: Jacob Stockdale is pulled back by Scotland ace Sean Maitland

Hands on: Jacob Stockdale is pulled back by Scotland ace Sean Maitland

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CJ Stander breaks through

CJ Stander breaks through

Getty Images

Hands on: Jacob Stockdale is pulled back by Scotland ace Sean Maitland

As both Andy Farrell and Johnny Sexton would point out, the result was of paramount importance to Ireland against Scotland on Saturday and, in that sense, they duly delivered.

In what promises to be an intriguing Championship for a side entering a new era, the fixture list ensures that the margins between success, failure and par for the course are finer than ever.

A loss first up at home - an indignity they suffered last season when a rampant England came to town - and any title aspirations would realistically have been hanging by a thread, while victory in either Twickenham or the Stade de France would have been required for even those in the most green-tinted glasses to put a positive spin on proceedings.

Still, as it should be said is to be expected in the first game under a new coach, there were times when this performance was something of a muddle.

There was plenty to admire in the efforts of CJ Stander, Iain Henderson and early replacement Peter O'Mahony in forcing key turnovers, but, against a Scotland side who have endured a horrible spell, one couldn't help but leave the Aviva Stadium thinking that against a better, more clinical team, it would be unrealistic to think Ireland could allow such frequent entry into their '22' without conceding a try.

Indeed, while it ultimately cost them only two points and a chance for two more, only Stuart Hogg will know how the Scots talisman failed to ensure his side matched Sexton's early try after he fumbled when applying a simple finish in the corner.

While Farrell rejected the idea that relief was the over-riding emotion upon the final whistle of his first game as a head coach, he admitted that the bruising encounter had been a test of his side's character.

"I said to them (the players) at half-time, I thought there was a lot of things going on that we'd done well," he said. "They felt like when we got an opportunity we were really in the ascendancy and taking it to them as far as their attack was concerned.

"But you've got a base that sometimes it wasn't perfect when they'd make a line-break or whatever.

"But the will to fight, to stay strong on your own line was tremendous and we can certainly build on that.

"It was a little bit stop-start. I thought the Scottish forwards did pretty well. The set-piece was a tough old battle so I think we'll get better. I thought Rob Herring's throwing and Iain Henderson's calling was really good but I think it was stuff across the board.

"There were little bits, like off your feet, or trying to offload when it wasn't on.

"Sometimes playing wide-wide and getting on the edges is great but sometimes there's a hole straight in front of you so just calm it down a little bit and we'll be better for that practice."

As Ireland's defence coach not so long ago, Farrell will surely have been thrilled by his side's resilience but, given their distinct style throughout six years of Joe Schmidt, it will be their work with ball in hand that is of most interest to outside observers over the next two months.

There were certainly signs of a departure from the detail-orientated approach that yielded such success until 2019's disappointments. After only limited time together, a work in progress is to be expected and results were certainly mixed.

The increased desire to attack on the counter - aided by Scottish willingness to kick deep -was best summed up by Jordan Larmour, as were the varying outcomes.

The Leinster full-back, who has been in fine form for his province since returning from Japan, made twice as many metres as any other player on the pitch but Hogg's moment to forget was preceded by one of Larmour's own, stepping into touch when he and Andrew Conway attempted to run the ball out from their own '22'.

"I actually thought that was the right decision," said Farrell.

"It was on and he just didn't know where the touchline was so we'll learn from that. He frightened me at times, yeah, but that's what he does. He actually doesn't know what he's doing with his own feet, does he?

"I mean, they're crazy, his feet. He's great to have around. He played some fantastic stuff and you want him to be in a place where he's comfortable enough to back himself. That's where people are at their best.

"The belief that Jordan's got is his strength. We'll keep analysing his game and keep helping him with his decision-making.

"But we have some great options there. Jacob (Stockdale) has been doing well at full-back. He's been slotting in from time to time. Robbie Henshaw has played there before, Andrew Conway has played there before, so we've got some great options."

Options too at scrum-half, where Ulster's John Cooney impressed again when replacing Conor Murray on the hour mark.

"I thought he played with higher tempo at times," said Farrell of Murray. "He was right in the thick of it when we were going pretty well in the first half and in the second half he was looking for holes and getting out there a little bit more than what we've seen him in the past.

"Some of his kicking was exceptional, one or two went astray. Like everyone, there's some things to work on.

"He'll be happy enough, Conor. John came on and he'll be happy to get 20 minutes there.

"There wasn't too much for him to do because the game started to get a little bit stop-start but I thought he did very well."

Belfast Telegraph