One Saturday into the Six Nations it’s all systems normal. A Welsh stroll, Italian demoralisation, Irish efficiency and Scottish hand wringing – same as ever then in this Six Nations. 

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Despite everyone coming into the tournament politely claiming they hadn’t a clue what might transpire, the same old largely predictable results unfolded. 

As in Cardiff, where Wayne Pivac was ushering in a new era post-Warren Gatland with Wales, there was no interruption either to the established pattern in Dublin. New man in charge of Ireland, typical home result against Scotland – thanks in part to Stuart Hogg’s incredibly botched handling over the try line.   

For Andy Farrell, it meant the extraordinarily long wait for his coronation was finally over. It was nearly 62 weeks ago – November 26, 2018 – when he was first confirmed as Joe Schmidt’s successor but only now – February 1, 2020 – did he finally experience what it was like to coach Ireland to a victory as the boss man. 

After a 432-day wait between then and now, it would have been understandable if he openly basked in the warm glow of his first W, that there was an I in team. After all, some celebratory glimpses of emotion had been caught on camera from the coaches’ box during the Test, reactions not seen during the Schmidt era. 

(Continue reading below…)

Andy Farrell and Johnny Sexton speak after Ireland’s 19-12 win

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But down in the stadium bowels, giddiness from the man himself that the Faz era had at long last got going was kept in check. “Well, honestly it’s nothing to do with my first game or whatever,” insisted the Englishman who until Saturday had spent years earning his stripes in the background, not only on defence duty with Ireland but also with England and on two tours of duty with the Lions. 

“I’m just pleased as Johnny (Sexton) said – in this competition we all know what it is all about, you need to get off to a winning start to try and roll on. We have done that, we have plenty to do. I think it’s a decent start.”

It was, all things considered. While genuine edge-of-seat moments were in short supply as both attacks largely spluttered and stuttered, inaccuracy traditionally typical of the championship’s opening round, this was a proper bruiser of a Test match featuring a whole host of unflinching tackles and juddering collisions.

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Farrell, the gritty English northerner, summed it up well. “We asked the boys to stand for something and it was true Irish grit out there. We will keep building on it. We didn’t have much field position but when we got into the 22, I thought we looked quite dynamic. 

“We had to fight and dig deep plenty of times, certainly in the first half… but our performance, you could sum it up in the last five minutes really. 

“We asked the lads all week to make sure they stand for something and you could easily see the true grit, especially some of those tight five boys who had to dig deep. We had a couple of injuries nice and early and that makes it tricky as far as your substitutes are concerned. 

“Some people were staying on a lot longer than they have in the past and there were leading the way in the last few minutes. That was outstanding.”

It was encouraging to hear Farrell stay on message in his post-mortem. It’s very easy for coaches to throw out a snazzy line at one media event and have forgotten about it all too quickly by the next. 

But when in London ten days earlier, he had made a similar refrain to what he referenced on Saturday, stating his target was: “Making sure that we come out of each particular game and stand for what we said we were going to stand for in the days before that.”

Epitomising the ‘true Irish grit’ mantra was another honorary Irishman, CJ Stander, his penalty-winning poaches in either half crucial to keeping the Scots try-less, just as they were 19 weeks earlier at the World Cup. 

James Ryan and Tadhg Furlong were also line-in-the-sand snarlers, defiance that was definitely required given how Scotland’s pack were much more of an obstacle than in Yokohama. 

Their starting eight made 133 metres off 59 runs at the Aviva compared to a shabby 44 metres off 64 runs in the previous encounter, a ball-carrying threat that caused the overall Irish tackle rate to soar from 143 (eight missed) to 190 (26 missed) in the respective fixtures. 

Defence does win championships – nine of the last ten Six Nations champions conceded the least amount of points – the attack is the sector where Farrell can over time be a point of difference where he can stamp his own Schmidt-free influence on proceedings. 

Their training ground move try, with Cian Healy selflessly popping and taking punishment to allow Conor Murray the space to send in Sexton, was encouraging as it created a rare easy walk-in. 

But other than sparks of counter-attacking finesse from Jordan Larmour, one canter even stemming from a try-saving intercept, Ireland were limited in what they managed. The hope with rookie Caelan Doris selected was that he would add ball-carrying heft in the tight, something that had been generally missing at the World Cup.

Doris made 82 metres off 18 carries when he last appeared at the Aviva, playing for Leinster versus Northampton. However, ambition for a repeat was crushed by his head clash with Adam Hastings, leaving Ireland dependant on Peter O’Mahony’s alternative non-carrying attributes  

It all played a part in why the Scots still had a sniff of snatching a draw until the final whistle. That scoreboard closeness meant Farrell’s maiden outing as Ireland boss was a touch more anxious than how his predecessors fared when they first started. 

Schmidt’s class of 2014 defeated the Scots 28-6, Declan Kidney’s crew downed the French 30-21 while Eddie O’Sullivan’s opening selection hammered the Welsh 54-10 way back in 2002. Schmidt and Kidney both went on to lift trophies in their first seasons and Farrell will privately feel his team can do likewise despite cock-a-hoop champions Wales coming to Dublin next Saturday. 

More will be needed from the Sexton/Murray axis if a second W is secured. If John Cooney was ever to start a big Test, it was Saturday versus Scotland. The nine jersey will now remain Murray’s and Farrell’s desire will be to see this long-standing partnership with his inspire-with-actions skipper Sexton step up a few notches.

Them two playing well together has always been important and it remains that way in the honeymoon period with new man Faz. His long wait is finally over and a new reign 62 weeks in the making has successfully started. 

WATCH: Stuart Hogg faces the media after a tough day for Scotland in Six Nations

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