Ireland head coach Andy Farrell says his players can use their Six Nations victory against England as a “reference point” for future success after they produced arguably the best performance of his reign.
Farrell said despite criticism after opening defeats to Wales and France, the Ireland camp believed in the work they were doing and were rewarded with crushing 32-18 win in Dublin on Saturday.
Ireland could finish second in the Six Nations table after winning their final three matches but must wait for the outcome of the postponed France v Scotland clash on Friday
Farrell, who had overseen victories against Italy and Scotland before the England match, said the performance against Eddie Jones’s men could prove the turning point for Ireland as they build towards the 2023 World Cup.
“It’s about transferring what you do day in, day out onto the field, under pressure,” said Farrell.
“What was most pleasing is how calm we were, how patient we were with the ball and how we went from moment to moment and didn’t get distracted.
“We kept our energy at a high level we needed to win a game against England.”
Farrell, who took charge after the 2019 World Cup, has largely relied on established players although new stars have emerged such as flanker Will Connors and full-back Hugo Keenan.
The head coach said his team would start next year’s Six Nations with the confidence stemming from a victory over a side that appeared to have a psychological hold over them, with four successive wins before Saturday’s meeting.
“Of course, it’s about starting like that the next time isn’t it?” he said.
“Sometimes it’s not right to build into a competition like the Six Nations, because before you know it it’s too late. But, we’ll take the learnings from this. It’s a great reference point, isn’t it from where we left off?”
Johnny Sexton was once again the master puppeteer for Ireland — it was no confidence that he was absent for their flattest performance, the 15-13 loss to France.
Sexton may be 35 but he played the entire 80 minutes of the past three matches.
Farrell said his skipper had stayed cool in the key moments.
He converted a late penalty to beat the Scots and calmed the nerves of his team-mates when Bundee Aki was sent off against England with more than 15 minutes remaining.
Two penalties killed off any hopes England had of pulling off a comeback win after they had scored a try almost as soon as Aki had trudged off the pitch.
“He (Sexton) is our leader, he is our captain that kept us on track,” said Farrell. “The reason we ended up building a score is because of him.
“He kept the emotion in the right place, he kept us going forward and he put us in the right places at the right times and dealt with the pressure perfectly well.”
Farrell said the performance came after positive discussions among the players.
“They think we’re getting better and they’re constantly talking about that, you know, ‘it’s coming, it’s coming, it’s coming’,” said Farrell.
“So you can’t ask for more than that and coaches can’t. You know you’re on the right track when you get the feedback from the players.”