Rory Best insists Ireland took a giant leap “mentally and emotionally” in their patchy 22-13 Guinness Six Nations win in Scotland.
Conor Murray, Jacob Stockdale and Keith Earls all crossed as Ireland returned to winning ways a week on from their physical besting in the 32-20 defeat by England in Dublin.
Johnny Sexton suffered a head injury leaving Joey Carbery to run the game for almost an hour: the Munster star threw an intercept pass for Sam Johnson’s try for Scotland, but conjured the winning score for Earls.
Ireland admitted they were not fully mentally prepared for the physical onslaught against England – but after Saturday’s edgy Edinburgh win, captain Best believes they have restored the right mindset.
“We’d ideally like to play better and with more fluidity, and probably get on the front foot more,” said Best.
“Defensively they came off the line very hard and worked hard at the breakdown.
“We’ll go back to the pressure we put on and the coaches put on us. We want to be better.
“Last week was a very strange week. We felt we’d done alright in some areas, and were pretty poor in others with some silly mistakes.
“But we don’t strive for alright, we want to be the best we can be and last week wasn’t that.
“Mentally and emotionally we took a big step forward this week.”
Ireland’s defence of their 2018 title got off to the worst possible start with that comprehensive loss to England, but victory in Scotland at least set Joe Schmidt’s men back on track.
Combative hooker Best knows full well Ireland’s title chances will now hinge on others slipping up elsewhere, but the 36-year-old was relieved and delighted to leave Edinburgh with those hopes still alive and kicking.
“I think winning this game was very important,” said Best.
“If you lose two games you’re dead and buried.
“We’ll have to rely on other people which isn’t where you want to be.
“But if we hadn’t won this game, we were definitely out of it.
“It was important to get the result. Obviously we wanted to improve in certain areas, physically, and we wanted to play a lot more like ourselves.
“We can be better, we can play more rugby, and I’m sure Joe will touch on that when we meet up again.
“With 15 minutes to go there was an opportunity to go for four tries but we couldn’t get the sustained pressure.”
Scrum-half Murray again struggled when kicking from hand, as Ireland’s much-vaunted aerial game failed to hit the mark for the second week running.
Head coach Joe Schmidt insisted the British and Irish Lions number nine assumed more kicking responsibility than usual while his half-back partner Sexton was struggling with taking several heavy hits and an ankle complaint.
Ireland will move on to face Italy in Rome next, on Sunday, February 24, with Schmidt well aware the tactical kicking must still improve.
“I think it was just a cohesion issue, to be honest; we’ve got to get better at that,” said Schmidt.
“I think our kicking game is a strength for us, as a rule, and we’ll be looking to remedy a few of those things and get a bit more continuity.
“I think Conor started taking a bit more responsibility when Johnny was feeling a little bit sluggish, particularly because his ankle was very sore.
“Conor was trying to kick from positions he wouldn’t normally, and when you’re trying too hard to do something it sometimes goes awry.”