Andy Farrell praised the character of his Ireland side chasing the Grand Slam after overcoming the loss of five injured players en route to a hard-fought 22-7 win over Scotland.
The Irish had to replace Dan Sheehan, Caelan Doris and Iain Henderson in the first 24 minutes at BT Murrayfield and then played the final half-hour without a recognized hooker after Ronan Kelleher – who replaced Sheehan in the first half – left early in the second half, leaving prop Cian Healy to fill in for the hooker.
The Irish suffered further in the closing stages when Garry Ringrose – on his 50th international cap – was placed on a stretcher with an oxygen mask after suffering a head injury. By this point, the Irish were on their way to a crucial victory after attempts from Mack Hansen, James Lowe and Jack Conan nullified Huw Jones’ goal for the Scots.
“It was immense, the character,” Farrell said. “Obviously it wasn’t all champagne rugby, but in terms of character and fighting and willpower it’s the best game I’ve ever been a part of.
“If you had seen us at half time you would have laughed. The whole team laughed because it was organized chaos. We didn’t know what was going on until the last second, whether Ronan would come back or not, and we made half a plan with Cian. For someone like Garry on his 50th cap, it deserved that we were able to put up a special performance against all the controversy.”
Farrell will examine his injured players this week despite having positive news about Ringrose.
“I texted his mum and dad there because they are very concerned,” he said. “There were security checks there and precautions around the neck but he was up and talking so hopefully he’ll be fine.”
Victory in Edinburgh leaves Ireland with a chance of their first Grand Slam in five years when they beat England in Dublin on Saturday.
“This is what dreams are made of. Last weekend, St. Paddy’s weekend, playing a Grand Slam against England at home, it doesn’t get any better than that,” said Farrell.
“We’ll have a couple of days to get our legs back and then we’ll have a hit or two and put our plan together and make sure we’re in the right room for training.”
Scotland head coach Gregor Townsend was frustrated by his team’s second-half falter after falling just a point at the break.
“I’m very disappointed with this second half,” he said. “The first half was a very good friendly – a very good friendly that went end to end. I felt like we were there.
“The players were a bit discouraged, they weren’t leading at half-time but that happens. We managed to stop Ireland from scoring a couple of times in the first half and they stopped us a couple of times.
“It’s just disappointing that the second half wasn’t as competitive or the same level of energy from us and Ireland progressing. We followed the game, maybe we had to, maybe it was too early to follow the game, but we weren’t happy with that performance in the last 15 minutes.”
Scotland lost Richie Gray to injury after just six minutes, while key duo Finn Russell and Stuart Hogg, earning his 100th cap, were both substituted off with injuries in the final quarter. All three are checking their availability for Saturday’s home game against Italy.
“Richie seems fine, it was a rib, but we won’t know until he has a scan or an X-ray,” Townsend said. “Finn had a knee injury and Hoggy had an ankle injury. Both will have scans or X-rays done to see if there’s anything that will rule them out next week.”