Player Ratings: A wild ride in Rome
OPINION: After a crucial – maybe even tournament-deciding – win against France, a rapidly improving Italy at Stadio Olimpico might have seemed on the face of it more of a ‘banana skin’ game for Andy Farrell’s World No.1s. than a seismic task.
Still, Six Nations matches don’t win themselves. Farrell chose to mix up his selection with a first Six Nations start for both Ross Byrne and Craig Casey. A late calf issue also sidelined Garry Ringrose, forcing a change-up in the midfield.
What transpired was easily Ireland’s scrappiest game of 2023 to date, with great attacking moments set against a backdrop of a leaky defence, sloppy asides and some strangely flat performances from the men in green.
15. Hugo Keenan – 8
Fast becoming Ireland’s Mr Immaculate, the unflappable Keenan is undoubtedly the most well-rounded 15 in the game. Another superb outing here for the former Ireland Sevens star.
14. Mack Hansen – 7.5
Soft hands from Hansen were critical for Ireland’s second try. Penalised for a needless late shove but secured a try bonus point with a composed finish. Stepping Ange Cappuozzo will gloss over a lot of the shakier stuff. Finished off with an F-Bomb in his post-match interview.
13. Bundee Aki – 6
A trademark midfield break and offload from Aki saw Keenan score and he claimed his own seven minutes later despite having plenty of work to do. A sloppy pass gifted Pierre Bruno an intercept just before half-time. As pointed out by Jerry Flannery in RTE’s analysis, the Italians successfully targeted and exploited the 13 channel between the Connachtman and Lowe on the left wing. Fumbled a try that may well have settled the contest with 20 or so minutes to go. A truly mixed bag of a performance.
12. Stuart McCloskey – 6
Another low-key if effective performance from McCloskey who does little wrong and plenty right. You suspect Farrell would like to see more from the Ulsterman by way of game-breaking play at 12. Lucky to avoid being sin-binned for a swinging hand to the face of Cappuozzo.
11. James Lowe – 6.5
Fluffed his lines under pressure to drop the ball over the line, whilst trying to hand off Cappuozzo, but made up for it by putting James Ryan in a play or two later. Put Aki across 17 minutes later before awkwardly fumbling a kick in front of his own posts moments later. Still, made a lot of things happen for Ireland side that looked short of ideas at times.
10. Ross Byrne – 5
Flaky moments in defence, attack and with the boot sullied Byrne’s first-ever Six Nations start. It wasn’t all bad but he didn’t do enough to quieten his critics, many of whom are yet to be convinced he’s the heir apparent to Johnny Sexton’s empire. Needs more starts if he is to establish himself at Test level.
9. Craig Casey – 7
A lively performance from Casey, who brings an urgency and tempo to the table that’s missing under Conor Murray. Took a whack in his throat but carried on gamely.
1. Andrew Porter – 6
An important steal at 7-5 saved Ireland’s skin with the Azzurri threatening the line in the 11th minute. Did his job if little else.
2. Ronan Kelleher – 6
Got through a tonne of work and had plenty of decent touches but Dan Sheehan is still very much in control of the No.2 jersey.
3. Finlay Bealham – 6
Was involved in an ill-advised reenactment of the set play that worked so well for the Hugo Keenan try against France in Round 2, but the Italians read it. Scrummaged well.
4. Iain Henderson – 6
Rumours have linked Henderson with a move to France this week but if any conjecture about his club future didn’t show here. A concrete option at lineout time but a little flat in the carrying department.
5. James Ryan – 7
The skipper cantered over for a 5-pointer with just three minutes on the clock and a few enforced errors aside, lead the team well from the coalface.
6. Caelan Doris – 5.5
Maybe Doris’ weakest performance of the championship to date, which is no great slight given his superlative form in the first two rounds. He improved considerably once he was shifted to No.8.
7. Josh van der Flier – 6
Beavered away in Rome but this more of a slog for the World Player of Year, with the brilliant Italians edging the loose-forward contest.
8. Jack Conan – 6
A good charge down in the 12th minute. Getting run over by Sebastien Negri will rankle but Conan can’t be faulted for work rate.
16. Dan Sheehan – NA
17. Dave Kilcoyne – NA
18. Tom O’Toole – 8
The Drogheda man scrummaged brilliantly when he came on, causing all sorts of issues for the Italians.
19. Ryan Baird – 7
Another strong performance from the bench, winning a telling turnover within minutes of coming on.
20. Peter O’Mahony – 7
Brought a hard edge and bolshie energy that Ireland had lacked here-to-fore in Rome.
21. Conor Murray – 8.5
Took the game by the scruff of the neck and delivered the moment of magic Ireland needed for Hansen late try.
22. Jack Crowley – NA
23. Jimmy O’Brien – NA