Andy Farrell paid tribute on Saturday night to the depths of resilience that Johnny Sexton produced to ensure Ireland got their 2020 Guinness Six Nations off to a winning start. 

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The veteran out-half hadn’t played any rugby since a December 7 Champions Cup knee injury at Northampton with Leinster and while all the medical bulletins over the last eight weeks indicated he would definitely be ready to lead his country on February 1, it genuinely wasn’t until Thursday of this week – two days before the championship opener in Dublin – that Farrell accepted his talisman was he was finally fully ready to go. 

Sexton made light of his latest comeback which culminated in him scoring all of Ireland’s 19 points in the seven-point victory over the Scots, but his new head coach refused to allow his skipper dilute the extent of the recovery he had gone through, interjecting during the post-match press conference after the veteran downplayed his refusal to give in to his latest winter injury.

“I was rusty,” admitted Sexton about the 56-day lay-off that began when he limped away from the provincial action at Franklin’s Gardens. “It’s tough. When you’re in a brace for three weeks, you can’t do anything and I worked my socks off for three weeks to try and get out for Portugal last week. 

“I was able to play a full part in training and it was really just I didn’t train that well at the end off last week, start of this week. But it was good because they way we trained was good preparation for the game. We made a few mistakes but it’s not about me, it’s about the team and all I care about is winning. If I can help with that, that is my job as a ten and I happy with that.”

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Johnny Sexton and Andy Farrell speak with the media following Ireland’s win

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Farrell, though, was letting the matter rest there, butting into to continue the line of conversation about a player who wore strapping on his right knee during the game. “I can elaborate on that because he won’t,” said the coach. “He hadn’t done any team training whatsoever, any rugby training whatsoever until we touched down in Portugal (on January 23). How long were you out altogether? Eight, nine weeks? Eight weeks. 

“For him not to touch a ball and not to fight in anger until probably Thursday of this week, that says it all about the man really. To have the pressures of doing something that he passionately wanted to do, to lead his country for the first time and all them new bits that come in around that, and then deal with coming back from such an injury and leading the side like he did, hats off to Johnny. That is a magnificent effort.”

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Sexton played 73 minutes of the Six Nations opener, giving way to Ross Byrne after he had just kicked his team 19-12 clear. He could have played on but Farrell had no qualms about letting his rookie back-up see the win out.  

“We trust Ross as well,” he said before getting the name of another of his out-halves mixed up top much amusement. “And Freddie Burns, he is looking great (Billy Burns, his brother). I actually called him Freddie in training as well. It doesn’t go down very well, but he is looking really good as well Billy, Freddie’s brother. We trust them all, genuinely. We want to see people given the chance and flourish out there.”

While Farrell was chuffed with how Sexton fared on the injury front, he might have to plan to face Wales minus Garry Ringrose who will need a scan on the hand injury that forced him off at the interval. 

Dave Kilcoyne and Caelan Doris also failed their HIAs so there will be changes when Ireland select their 23 for next Saturday’s round two encounter with the defending champions in Dublin. 

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

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