DUBLIN (Reuters) - Ireland handed Andy Farrell an unconvincing victory in his first game in charge on Saturday as they struggled to put another poor World Cup behind them with a 19-12 win over Scotland on their return to the home comforts of the Six Nations.
Ireland, winners of three of the last six Six Nations tournaments, including one Grand Slam, once more failed to progress past the quarter-finals at last year’s World Cup where, like Scotland, they were humbled by hosts Japan.
New captain Johnny Sexton scored all 19 points in a largely dreary game to begin the Farrell era with a win - but not the kind of performance that will leave their rivals in any way concerned, with far tougher tests ahead.
“I wouldn’t say relief, we’re delighted to get the win. I thought it was a tough old test match,” Farrell told a news conference.
“There’s some good, there’s obviously plenty to work on and we’ll need to be better (against Wales next week).”
Farrell, defence coach under the previous Irish regime, made just two changes from the team that started against Scotland in the World Cup, a 27-3 win that was Ireland’s sole bright spot.
One of those, 21-year-old backrow Caelan Doris, lasted just three minutes before a knock to the head brought his debut to a premature end as Adam Hastings kicked Scotland into a 3-0 lead.
Despite enormous success under previous coach Joe Schmidt that included a stint as the world’s top ranked side, Ireland became too predictable in Japan and there were early signs that they would seek to run the ball a lot more under Farrell.
Sexton’s opening try began with the flyhalf opting for the corner instead of a shot at goal and he was assisted by a familiar battering of their opposing eight by the Irish pack before he crossed over with a looping run.
But by looking to move the ball as much as possible, Ireland were also prone to errors and they may not have been 10-6 ahead at halftime against a more accurate side than the Scots, much changed from the last time the sides met in September.
Sexton nudged Ireland further in front with an early second half penalty but the errors continued for both sides, the most incredible from Scotland captain Stuart Hogg who somehow let the ball go when placing it down in the corner unopposed.
The outhalves traded more penalties but Ireland proceeded to give up possession any time they got within striking distance and in the end had to hang on, anathema to the Schmidt years.
“I’m incredibly proud of the boys, we came here with a huge task on our hands and we fronted up,” said Hogg, who apologised to his team mates for what he described as a schoolboy error when he dropped the ball over the line.
“We got ourselves in some very, very good situations and maybe next time we’ll get there.”
Reporting by Padraic Halpin; Editing by Kevin Liffey and Christian Radnedge