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Rob Herring: Win will do for starters but Ireland will improve under Andy Farrell


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Front foot: Rob Herring on the attack for Ireland

Front foot: Rob Herring on the attack for Ireland

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Front foot: Rob Herring on the attack for Ireland

With the previously uncapped Caelan Doris lost for the game only four minutes into his debut, for a long period on Saturday it was somewhat remarkable to note that there was only one player in green who hadn't started the win over Scotland when these sides last met in Yokohama to start the World Cup back in September.

On this first day of the Andy Farrell era, the early arrival of Peter O'Mahony into the back-row meant that Ulster hooker Rob Herring - taking the place of the now retired Rory Best - was the only difference in personnel from that 27-3 thumping that began Joe Schmidt's swansong tournament on such a deceptively encouraging note.

Despite that apparent familiarity, this was a very different game with a fraught and frenetic affair settled only at the very death as the hosts lived dangerously throughout, Johnny Sexton's 19-point haul enough to claim victory only after Scotland wasted a whole host of promising positions.

"I think we're still developing together so you're not going to see wholesale changes in the first game," said Herring after impressing on what was his first ever taste of the Six Nations.

"Obviously there are some slight differences with Andy and Mike Catt's game plan but I think you can see in our attack today that we are already threatening, playing into the space and with speed.

"I thought when we had the ball and held onto it, we were pretty threatening and looked really good. We'll keep developing that and trying to improve that, and hopefully take that to Wales next week."

That round two fixture will likely need to see an improvement from Ireland back on their own patch for a second time in seven days but Herring can be confident of holding onto the No.2 jersey after a strong all-round performance.

After a decade-long run from Best as Ireland's first-choice hooker, his hanging up of the boots last year left the position wide open with a host of players vying to be the former skipper's long-term successor. Having had to play second fiddle for Ulster for so long, Herring was surely champing at the bit for his big chance and duly delivered.

The Ulster lineout has struggled in recent weeks but his throwing was strong, hitting his provincial team-mate and caller Iain Henderson in the first instance but varying things considerably thereafter with the game's only try set up by going for the corner.

He did his job defensively too, one of his seven tackles especially memorable as he corralled the elusive Adam Hastings in the open field and forced a penalty.

"I thought it was very different," Herring said of the atmosphere having won his previous eight caps either on summer tours or in autumn internationals spread out over a period of five years.

"I thought the whole build-up was class, it definitely felt different to, say, an autumn international or a summer Test.

"It was very special and I really enjoyed being out there. Obviously the crowd was really good and I just thought the whole occasion was great and I was very proud to be a part of it.

"It was a good start to the campaign. We still have a little bit to work on in the scrum, to get our combinations right there, but I think overall it was a decent start for us."

Herring, of course, was not the only man tasked with replacing Best in the set-up with Johnny Sexton taking over the captaincy.

The former World Player of the Year certainly led from the front, providing all 19 of his side's points thanks to a try, conversion and four penalties.

Afterwards, the Leinsterman reminded both the players and the media that the opening game of this tournament is about winning rather than aesthetics, harking back to the landscape-altering defeat to England here in round one a year ago.

"I thought Johnny put it well," said Herring. "It was not our best but the Six Nations is about winning. We have the campaign off to a winning start and that's all that matters.

"I thought Scotland were very good, their attacking game was spot on, especially when they got those off-loads going.

"And part of it was because we didn't get our collisions right, and part of it was just good play from them.

"We expected them to come hard and they did, but we scrambled back and won a few key moments on the back of some good attack that we had.

"I thought that's kind of the mentality we have as a team, we would be fighting hard for each other and enjoying those moments.

"We can build momentum now, there are things we can fix and there are things we can improve but there's a lot that went well.

"We'll take the positives, fix the negatives and move on to next week.

"I haven't seen the (Wales) game but I heard they played well so they'll be coming with a lot of confidence. We're looking forward to it."

While Dave Kilcoyne and Tadhg Furlong both shipped knocks - indeed, Cian Healy twice had to be reintroduced to the action - Herring was able to provide a lengthy shift, going 73 minutes before being replaced by the uncapped Ronan Kelleher.

The Leinster hooker, who was playing his first game since injury on Champions Cup duty in December, admitted he enjoyed his first taste of the Test arena all the more for having shared the experience alongside Doris, his former Leinster Academy and Irish Under-20s team-mate, even if neither saw as much action as they would have liked.

"It was extra special to get my first cap with Caelan," said Kelleher. "Obviously it was unfortunate what happened to him but still delighted we got it together.

"He was in good spirits afterwards. Obviously it was worrying at the time, but he seems to have come through it well.

"I was chatting to him, he was kind of happy enough. Obviously he was not really aware what was going on but he's going well.

"He was chatting away. His family came in as well. It was great for the two of us."

Doris isn't the only player who will be an injury concern ahead of tomorrow's announcement of the team to face Wales on Saturday (2.15pm kick-off).

Centre Garry Ringrose was lost at half-time to a finger injury and Farrell confirmed he was set for a scan. Set to miss out, Ireland already have a ready-made replacement in Robbie Henshaw while Ulster's Will Addison is also a backline option.

There'll be monitoring of the props too with both Kilcoyne and Furlong departing during the second half.

Belfast Telegraph