New Ireland head coach Andy Farrell was in awe of the way captain Johnny Sexton carried his side in his first appearance for club or country in almost two months.
As former assistant Farrell takes on the senior coaching role following Joe Schmidt’s post-Rugby World Cup departure, Sexton is now the Ireland skipper after Rory Best retired.
And the Leinster fly-half was at his influential best on Saturday to secure a 19-12 victory at home to Scotland in their Six Nations opener, scoring all of Ireland’s points – including the only try of the match.
Sexton had been out of action since a 45-minute shift in the European Champions Cup against Northampton Saints on December 7, and he has played just three times for Leinster in total this season.
Farrell told ITV: “He’s not played for a long time, Johnny. It says a lot about a guy when he’s passionate about being captain of his country in the Six Nations for the first time.
“He’s trained with us for the last 10 days and that’s the only real time he’s been involved with team rugby, and he goes out and puts a performance in like that. He was outstanding, for me.”
— Irish Rugby (@IrishRugby) February 1, 2020
Sexton’s team-mates did not look quite so convincing in a match that ended following a nervy stand in front of the Ireland try line, but Farrell was delighted with the team’s spirit.
“There’s always going to be things to work on, things we’re trying to implement that are going to take time,” he said. “Some of them were good, some of them were bad.
“Decision-making was up and down at times. I thought we looked quite fluent at times, but sometimes we got a little carried away with our decision-making. It’s a start.
“But we asked the players all week to make sure they stand for something, and boy did they stand for a bit of grit.
“They were under the pressure in the first half on their own line quite a few times. And then you culminate that with what the last five minutes said about the team, I think it’s there for all to see really.”
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