Ireland 2 Australia 1: Player-by-player end of tour report

Gerry Thornley rates every Irish player following their historic series win in Australia

 The Ireland team sing the national anthem during the third Test at the Allianz Stadium in Sydney. Photograph: Mark Kolbe/Getty Images

The Ireland team sing the national anthem during the third Test at the Allianz Stadium in Sydney. Photograph: Mark Kolbe/Getty Images

 

What a season for Irish rugby. A third Grand Slam as well as a Triple Crown, a November clean sweep, Leinster’s European Champions Cup and Guinness Pro 14 double - and then to end it all, a first series win away to one of the Southern Hemisphere big guns in 39 years.

Ireland confirmed their status as the world's second best team (second only to the All Blacks) with that 2-1 series win in Australia. Gerry Thornley - who was at all three Tests in Brisbane, Melbourne and Sydney - now rates the individual contribution of each Irish player Down Under with one eye already on the World Cup season . . .

Rob Kearney (Leinster)

“Fatigue makes cowards of us all sometimes,” said Kearney, in explaining his untypically unsure 10 minutes before half-time in test one. Failed to stop Koroibete at full steam last Saturday, but otherwise as assured as ever, with plenty of good interventions. Played all but the last 22 minutes. Rating: 7.

Keith Earls (Munster)

Only lasted 25 minutes of first test, but played every minute of last two. Again looked razor sharp, though the ball didn’t come his way enough. Competed superbly in the air with spring off the ground, and though missed a couple of clear-outs, there was one awesome counter ruck. Good tour. Rating 8.

Jacob Stockdale (Ulster)

Carried strongly in first and third tests (Four clean line breaks, seven defenders beaten) if again looking a little unsure of his bearings in defence. First time in his fledgling career he’s gone two tests without a try! Worth reminding ourselves that he’s still only 22. Rating: 7.

Jordan Larmour (Leinster)

One of the tour’s major plusses. His ability to cover 13, wing and fullback saw him given around 65, 55 and 22 minutes in all of the above positions. Seemed utterly unfazed, footwork continually eluded traffic and one fine take in air against Folau led to vital late penalty last Saturday. Rating: 7.

Andrew Conway (Munster)

Just cruelly unlucky. Having missed Six Nations through injury, returned in second test, looked very much the part, took his try well but also took a dunt in the hip from Haylett-Petty and so was restricted to 16 minutes. This was a chance denied him. Rating: Not on pitch long enough.

Garry Ringrose (Leinster)

Rested for first test, Ringrose returned for the second, carrying and passing well, and just gives the attack more when he’s there. Slipped off a couple of tackles, but not costly and made some reads too. A classy operator. Rating: 7.

Robbie Henshaw (Leinster)

After an injury interrupted season when he didn’t string two 80 minutes in a row for Ireland, managed to play every minute on tour. Admitted to misreads in first test, but after solid showing in second, his energy and work-rate were key in stifling Wallabies attack. Rating: 7.

Ireland’s Bundee Aki left everything on the field for his adopted country. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho
Ireland’s Bundee Aki left everything on the field for his adopted country. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

Bundee Aki (Connacht)

Backed up an under-stated but big Six Nations campaign with the same in tests one and three. Should have shifted one ball on in the first, but some good passing and offloading, dynamic carries with his amalgam of strength, footwork and that explosiveness off the mark. A textbook clean-out on Pocock too, and good shifts in defence. Rating: 8.

Johnny Sexton (Leinster)

Where to begin? The maestro indeed. As was the case with the Lions last summer, was kept on the bench for the first test defeat before starting next two to turn series around. The squad’s commander, and demander, in chief, and again delivered in spades; kicking, passing, leadership, keeping the scoreboard ticking and doing his shift physically. Rating: 9.

Joey Carbery (Leinster)

Granted the ‘10’ jersey for the first test, the 22-year-old performed efficiently and comfortably, before normal service was resumed in the second (two minutes) and third (none) tests. Still, great experience for a young player who has a big year ahead of him. A huge talent. Rating: 7.

Ross Byrne (Leinster)

The only player in the 32 not to be given a run out, and Sexton’s three or four on-field treatments must have meant Byrne warmed up each time in hope. Very composed according to ex-St Michael’s teammates, the three weeks can only have done him good, and Schmidt’s selection of him on the bench was telling. Rating: Not enough time on pitch.

Conor Murray (Munster)

Consistently excellent cog in the well-oiled Irish machine, the problem being that he is so dependable no-one else can get a look in. Played all bar the last three minutes of first test. Learnt to zip his mouth after first test, conceded an avoidable penalty late on in third test but overall superb in so many facets, as usual. Rating: 9.

Kieran Marmion (Connacht)

A three minute cameo in first test, and was unlucky to actually have a try overruled, but kept on the bench for the entirety of the third test. Still seems to be second in the pecking order. Rating: Not on pitch long enough.

John Cooney (Ulster)

His move to Ulster was vindicated by his form this season, which earned him this call-up ahead of Luke McGrath. Two minute cameo in second test earned Cooney his second cap, and as a goal-kicking scrumhalf his value could be significant come the World Cup. Rating: Not on pitch long enough.

Cian Healy (Leinster)

Actually had less minutes than Jack McGrath, and only started the second test, but this at least meant he could help steady the scrum and be there at the end for a series win to add another triumph for Ireland’s most decorated prop. Rating: 7.

Jack McGrath (Leinster)

After largely being Healy’s understudy this season, McGrath looked fresh and performed to his usual high standards, save for an injudicious late penalty in the second test, starting first and third tests. Can look forward to impending nuptials and honeymoon feeling better about himself. Rating: 7.

Tadhg Furlong on the charge - the Wexford native finished off a superb season in style. Photograph: PA
Tadhg Furlong on the charge - the Wexford native finished off a superb season in style. Photograph: PA

Tadhg Furlong (Leinster)

Confined to bench duty in first test, like others, allayed fears over his freshness with barnstorming 72 minute shift in second test and 67 minutes in third. Scrum did endure some difficulties while he was on the pitch, which won’t have pleased him, but one of the true world-class players in this squad. Rating: 8.

John Ryan (Munster)

After an underwhelming season with Munster when largely second choice to Stephen Archer, this was a productive tour for the Corkman in which he seemed to jump above Porter. Started first test and played last 13 of third test, helping to steady scrum. Rating: 7.

Andrew Porter (Leinster)

Surprisingly limited opportunities. Confined to just one appearance off the bench in the second test, which amounted to the last eight minutes with Ireland in defensive mode, and he made his eight tackles. Should benefit from the experience, and it’s another investment. And he’s still only 22. Rating: Not on pitch long enough.

Niall Scannell (Munster)

The biggest, and certainly most unexpected, plus of the tour. Didn’t make in initial cut, but replaced Rory Best and ended up bridging a one-year gap to start second and third tests, playing 49 and 56 minutes. His darts were good, he carried strongly, didn’t miss a tackle and Schmidt was happy with his scrummaging. Rating: 8.

Rob Herring (Ulster)

Started the first test, which was only his second at test level, and made good impact off the bench in second and third, with a total of 115 largely industrious minutes. Showed some real skill in winning a couple of loose balls in first test and brought real energy to the defensive effort, making ten tackles in 24 minutes in Sydney. Rating: 7.

Sean Cronin (Leinster)

Limited to just 23 minutes off bench in first test, when held accountable for scrum implosion and penalty on Irish put-in. Recalled for the third, for what would have been a tenth start in 63 tests, but twanged his hamstring at the end of Thursday’s session. Still has much to offer, but the unluckiest story of all. Rating: Not on pitch long enough.

Rob Herring, James Ryan and John Ryan celebrate at the final whistle in Sydney. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho
Rob Herring, James Ryan and John Ryan celebrate at the final whistle in Sydney. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

James Ryan (Leinster)

Finally suffered his first defeat but hardly his fault. The machine played every minute of all three tests, making circa 40 carries (for 80 metres) and 40 tackles (missing none), with a few rampaging breaks too. But it’s not just the numbers, it’s the unrelenting quality of his carries, his tackle execution and clear-outs. And only 22 next month. Remarkable. Rating: 9.

Devin Toner (Leinster)

Such is his understated importance that he was rested for the defeat and played all bar four minutes of the two wins. Not only a hugely reliable source of ball, but an honest toiler who, at the demand and ultimately to delight of the coaches, upped his physicality too. Rating: 8.

Iain Henderson (Ulster)

Ultimately the twisted knee Henderson sustained in the first test, though just a ‘niggle’, restricted him to 65 minutes in that test and no more, sidelining him for the remainder of the series. Still plenty to offer but Beirne has emerged to offer same versatility. Rating: 7.

Tadhg Beirne (Scarlets)

Another of the tour’s relative success stories. Despite his 2,200 plus minutes with Scarlets, Beirne made his debut off the bench in second test, and was picked again on bench in third, playing 27 minutes in total. His strong inside shoulder line was instrumental in Ireland lifting the final quarter siege. Versatility a major plus. Rating: 7.

Quinn Roux (Connacht)

Replaced Henderson for the last 15 minutes of the first test and made negligible impact, so much so that he appeared to be overtaken by Beirne for rest of the series. That he wasn’t on the pitch long enough was not injury related. Rating: 6.

Peter O’Mahony (Munster)

Captained team in all three tests, was a constant menace to the Wallabies on their throw and at the breakdown, winning three big turnovers in the second test and another in the third before being forced off. Good on the ball, carried well and also demonstrated his improved passing skills. Rating: 8.

CJ Stander played every minute of the series for Ireland. Photograph: PA
CJ Stander played every minute of the series for Ireland. Photograph: PA

CJ Stander (Munster)

Like Ryan, one of the team’s go-to workhorses. Played every minute and even had slightly more tackles (45) and carries (41), while also passing more, and there was even a one-handed offload when being hounded into touch. At fault for Beale’s try in second test, when he was also denied a try, but his value was again immense. Rating: 8.

Dan Leavy (Leinster)

So after such phenomenal energy and work-rate, his body finally cracked, although ironically the sternum injury which limited him to first half of second test was due to landing on the ball. He made a difference at the breakdown in a half which turned series around. Loads of credit in the bank. Rating: 7.

Jordi Murphy (Leinster)

After playing full 80 in the first test, he underlined his versatility and dependability when being introduced after 40 and 31 minutes of second and third tests. He had a particularly good half in the second test, and defiant in defence in the third. Also the line-out option for the try. Rating: 7.

Jack Conan (Leinster)

After a late cameo in the first test, repaid Schmidt’s faith when starting the third, not so much as the old-school number eight carrier that he is, but with the effectiveness of his defensive work - leading the tackle count with 16. In the biggest game of his career, that makes last Saturday a benchmark for him. Rating: 7.

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