Ireland may have slipped to a narrow defeat against Wales in their Guinness Six Nations opener but head coach Andy Farrell was impressed by the ‘valiant’ display they produced with 14 men.
Peter O’Mahony became the first Irishman in Guinness Six Nations history to be sent off when he was dismissed for making contact with the head of Tomas Francis while trying to clear out a ruck on 13 minutes in Cardiff.
Yet Ireland barely missed a beat immediately after the dismissal, with Tadhg Beirne crossing for a try that gave them a deserved 13-6 half-time lead at Principality Stadium.
The hosts did roar back after the break as tries from George North and Louis Rees-Zammit sealed a 21-16 victory but Farrell felt there were plenty of positives to take from the performance.
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“The strategy was good, we had a plan and a way we wanted to play with 14 men and I thought we dealt with it well,” he explained to BBC television after the game.
“It wasn’t [the sending off] that lost us the game. It was one or two silly penalties, one or two errors and then missing touch a couple of times as well.
“It was those type of things that lost us the game but at the end of the day I thought it was an unbelievable effort from our boys.
“To take it to the death there and if that ball does go to touch, we’re in with a chance. It was a valiant effort but not quite good enough in the end.”
Even after North and Rees-Zammit had put Wales into the lead, a Billy Burns penalty dragged Ireland back within a score to set up a grandstand finish.
But their final chance went begging when Burns kicked the ball dead while going for the corner from a penalty with the clock in the red, although his coach refused to point the finger of blame.
“There’s not much I need to say to him [Burns],” added Farrell. “He’s gutted and we’re gutted. It’s just one of those things. Billy will learn from this and get better.”
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Next up for Ireland is a game against France – who beat Italy 50-10 in their Championship opener – in Dublin and Farrell hopes the Wales fixture has put his squad in a strong position to thrive.
“You can go right through the team [picking out players who played well] and we got through our bench pretty quickly due to the attrition of the game,” said Farrell.
“That will stand us in good stead for next week because there are a fair few boys that haven’t had much game-time lately but they have now.”