After coming out on the right side of the result against Scotland, Ireland captain Jonathan Sexton admitted certain improvements will be required if they are to get the better of England in the final round.
Courtesy of Sexton’s late penalty, Ireland squeezed past the challenge of Scotland on a final scoreline of 27-24, moving them up to second in the Guinness Six Nations table in the process.
Andy Farrell’s men had developed a 14-point cushion, before the Scots responded through converted tries from Huw Jones and Hamish Watson.
This led to a frantic conclusion to the contest at BT Murrayfield, something that the Ireland skipper felt could have been avoided.
“With 10 minutes to go I didn’t see the game unfolding like that, but international rugby throws things at you that you don’t expect sometimes,” admitted Sexton afterwards.
“I thought we dominated large parts of the game, but when they had their small purple patches, they scored. When we’re 14 points up and we concede that try, it just changes the game again.
“We just need to be better there. We had a kick-off receipt we didn’t deal well with. We had a lineout we didn’t deal well with and then we missed a tackle that we should have done better.
“As good a team as Scotland are, we have to look at ourselves first and foremost, and need to improve. Because if you have a 14-point lead in international rugby, the next moment is the most important one.
“You can put a statement down. Top teams, they take the kick-off, they clear their lines and then they put pressure on again. We’re just short of that at the moment.”
There was just over three minutes left on the clock when Sexton split the posts with a crucial penalty turn a potential drawn game into a second victory in succession for his Ireland side.
Profiting on the excellent work of his Leinster team-mate Ryan Baird and Ulster’s Iain Henderson, the ever-influential out-half brought his personal tally for the day up to 17 points. Sexton noted:
It was brilliant by Ryan Baird, wasn’t it? To get the charge down. He’s so explosive the first couple of steps and then to make the tackle that he does, which allows Iain Henderson to get on the poach.
“Obviously then you’re going to have to kick it. I kicked pretty well all game. It wasn’t my best of the day. My best probably hit the post (his conversion attempt for Robbie Henshaw’s try), but it was enough. I was just trying to keep it a little bit lower.
“It was quite blustery in the stadium, but it was a good enough strike to get over and thankfully we get the four points, which is very important and we’re up to second now. Big end to the tournament next week.”
The foundation for much of Ireland’s good attacking play came from their work at the lineout – both defensively and offensively. Farrell’s charges secured nine out of 11 on their own ball, while also claiming six of Scotland’s eight throws.
This created an encouraging platform in Ireland’s third away trip of the 2021 campaign, and Sexton feels it could have led to even further joy in the opposition 22.
“The forwards have been outstanding for the last four games and they did a great job today. What we did with that ball at times wasn’t good enough. Some of the turnover ball, you want to make that your best source of possession.
“We turned the ball over straight away at times, which is frustrating, because it’s something we’ve been working on really hard. We’ll look at that, we’ll look at the video and like I said, there’s plenty to get better at.”
Back-to-back wins have not only helped Ireland to climb up the Six Nations standings, but they also come as a morale boost following earlier defeats to Wales and France.
Sexton and his team-mates will now aim to take that momentum into their Aviva Stadium showdown with England. Given the pedigree of their ‘Super Saturday’ opponents, Sexton knows what will be awaiting them, adding:
We feel that we’ve been building. We feel we were a little bit unlucky in the first couple of games. Even though England have had a couple of bad results, they’re the team that were in a World Cup final.
“The team that won the Six Nations last year, the team that won the Autumn Nations Cup. They’re a top, top team and we’ve to prove that we can match them and put in a performance to beat one of the top teams. Because we haven’t done it as of yet.”