Andy Farrell insists a World Cup quarter-final against New Zealand is “as tough as it gets” after “little old Ireland” topped Pool B thanks to a six-try demolition of Scotland.
The rampant Six Nations champions emphatically underlined their status as Test rugby’s top-ranked side by banishing any lingering doubts of an early exit with a crushing 36-14 success which eliminated the Scots.
Ireland will return to Paris next Saturday for a showdown with the All Blacks seeking to make history by progressing beyond the last eight of the tournament for the first time.
Head coach Farrell led his side to a landmark series success in New Zealand last summer and is braced for another major test following statement Stade de France victories over reigning champions South Africa and Scotland.
“New Zealand are a fantastic side, and for little old Ireland to be talked about in the same bracket as the All Blacks shows how far we’ve come as a rugby-playing nation,” he said.
“The respect we’ve got for New Zealand is through the roof.
“The form they’ve got at this moment in time is top drawer and I’m sure that they will be relishing this fixture to try and put a few things right. It’s tough, it’s as tough as it gets.
“Two weeks ago (against South Africa), it was a tough game and this one was knock-out type rugby so it gets a whole lot tougher next week against the All Blacks and hopefully they will need to be at their best to beat us as well.”
James Lowe’s early try settled any Irish nerves in Saint-Denis before Hugo Keenan crossed either side of a score from the recalled Iain Henderson to quickly take the game away from shell-shocked Scotland.
Dan Sheehan and Garry Ringrose added to the opposition’s embarrassment, prior to consolation tries from Scottish pair Ewan Ashman and Ali Price.
Farrell must wait to discover the true cost of a feisty affair in the French capital, with wings Mack Hansen and Lowe and replacement lock James Ryan each sustaining injuries.
“James Ryan has a bit of a knock on his wrist that we have to assess more, so we’ll see how he is now.
“James Lowe got a bang in the eye, his eye shut and he couldn’t really see much. His vision was coming back towards the end of the game, which is good.
“Then, a few more bangs and bruises that we’ll need to assess tomorrow.”
Farrell savoured another special occasion, while wishing he could simultaneously enjoy the “bonkers” scenes back home.
“My wife and me two girls were there, that’s why I was singing to them,” he said.
“I think it’s amazing, the songs at the end of the game, I love all that.
“It’s the least we can do when they turn up in their thousands like they’ve done.
“We play for them, we talk about it every week. I talked about it before the game today in the dressing room, it means more than what people think, 100 per cent.
“I know that France is buzzing with Irish people, but I believe it’s bonkers back home. We’re torn a bit, enjoying it with the fans back home or stay here? We’ll stay here for now!”