Player Ratings: Ireland
OPINION: Few would have given a battered, bruised and broken Ireland much hope of turning around their World Cup warm-up series after they humiliatingly limped away from Twickenham on August 24.
Coming out on the wrong side of a 57-point, eight-try English onslaught was no way for Joe Schmidt’s squad to strike an optimistic tone heading to Japan.
Just two weeks, later, though, the sense of dread and trepidation has lessened before they fly to the Far East on Wednesday, Saturday’s largely first-choice XV adding to the morale-boosting riposte generated last weekend in Cardiff by a mostly second-string selection.
Beating Wales on the trot two weeks running is no mean feat and the energetic gallop the now No1 ranked Irish generated in the second half of this encounter in Dublin will apply serious balm to the mental scars inflicted at Twickenham.
It wasn’t perfect. Trailing 7-10 at the interval amid concerns surrounding Rory Best at the lineout and Johnny Sexton’s level of rustiness, they appeared to be in a bind in Dublin where the atmosphere was muted during the opening 40 minutes.
However, they went on to produce a dominant second-half display where the 19-10 result was irrevocably tipped their way with two tries in an eight-minute spell, forwards Tadhg Furlong and James Ryan touching down.
Ryan was immense, rounding off his day with the official man of the match, but the influence of some other Irish players didn’t go unnoticed either. Here’s how RugbyPass rated their performance:
ROB KEARNEY – 7
Needed a convincing performance to get over the ghosts of Twickenham and he provided it. Reminding people of his ability to shut the gate was a priority and he did it twice to perfection in the opening half, first snuffing out the danger of Leigh Halfpenny’s grubber that nearly had George North in and then assisting Robbie Henshaw to ensure Dan Biggar didn’t ground the ball to score after his halfway thieving of Sexton. Safe as houses under the garryowen, he was excellent going forward, powering past Jonathan Davis for a well-taken 22nd minute try. Remained alert and was on hand to shut the gate again on 70 minutes when Wales broke from the 22 to halfway.
JORDAN LARMOUR – 5
Had little to do in the first half, so much so that towards the end of it he was involved on the same side of the pitch as fellow winger Keith Earls. Showed one decent step in the Welsh 22 with a rare possession, but defensively wasn’t tested. Came into it way more in the second half, his impetus boosted by forcing an early second-half penalty with work over the ball on the Welsh side. Late quick-tap nearly brought a try for Dave Kilcoyne but the sub was held up over the line.
ROBBIE HENSHAW – 7
Was a bundle of energy in his first Aviva Stadium Test appearance since the awkwardness of his start at full-back in the 2019 Six Nations opener defeat to England. He needed to prove his fitness and he did this with a variety of midfield interventions. He was excellently aggressive with first-half tackles on Ross Moriarty and Hadleigh Parkes, gutsy with a strong run off defensive scrum ball and then he produced the try-saving tackle that stopped Biggar finishing off a halfway intercept. Dominated even more in the second half.
BUNDEE AKI – 7
Widely criticised after the tame London surrender, he gave it socks last weekend in Cardiff to restore some lost credibility and he largely continued in that vein even though he will be disappointed at not getting off the line quick enough to get a hit in on the try-scoring Parkes. It was his dancing feet that initially left Rhys Patchell looking lost. Largely carried and tackled well throughout.
KEITH EARLS – 4
This was his first appearance of the season and he needed a good one. It didn’t occur, though. As happened with Larmour, this wasn’t an adventure for wide men, even if there was more traffic on his flank. Was turned by Halfpenny’s excellent grubber that nearly resulted in a North score. Then became an RWC injury doubt when limping away on 53 minutes to be replaced by Garry Ringrose. It emerged later that Earls could have played on but management decided not to take that risk.
JONATHAN SEXTON – 6
Looked rusty initially in his first appearance of the four-match warm-up programme. It started with a kick out to touch on the full from a 22-metre drop-out and culminated in the intercept that was picked off by Biggar on halfway that gave Wales the pressure and territory which eventually resulted in Parkes’ lead-taking try. On the plus side, he gave Kearney the assist and tried to mix things up, putting in a grubber and running some loops. That was enough of an encouragement for him to look more like himself in the second half and he put his pack where it needed to be to turn the result around. Departed on 64 minutes for Jack Carty, who comfortably saw the win out.
CONOR MURRAY – 6
After a bang ended his appearance at Twickenham early, he would have wanted to wield way more of an influence here. His passing was snappy enough but contestable kicking, a massive part of Ireland’s attack when they ruled the world and the skies during their imperious 2018 year, is still not quite accurate enough. Tackled aggressively, which was a good sign, and his last act was halting another Welsh run before he exited on 72 minutes for Luke McGrath.
CIAN HEALY – 5
Dave Kilcoyne set the loosehead bar very high with his all-action 45 minutes in Cardiff last weekend and this match largely passed Healy by. The game was a non-event in the opening 20 and when it started to bubble, he took a bang that necessitated a HIA and the introduction of Kilcoyne for the start of the second half. The sub was full of enterprise, such as forcing Elliot Dee into tossing a pass forward on halfway on 55.
RORY BEST – 6
On his last Test appearance in Dublin, the under-fire veteran skipper came in looking for the nuts and bolts of his game to function well. However, his lineout again had its struggles, his first two throws going astray before Ryan came to his rescue by calling the next two on himself which were won. Best was more effective in defence than at Twickenham, making a poach to win a penalty as Wales rucked in the Irish 22 in the first half. Led his pack much better after the break and it was his decision to scrum down for the game-breaking Furlong try rather than taking an easy three points in front of the posts. Left to a standing ovation on 53 minutes.
TADHG FURLONG – 7
Looked lethargic and low on gas in London, but he prospered here with a far greater physical presence. He locked the scrum, carried and put in his tackles. Reward eventually came his way when he barrelled over for his 51st-minute score. He then bullied Wales at the next scrum to help win a penalty and he left the scene on 57 minutes for Andrew Porter.
JAMES RYAN – 8
So much about Ireland’s vitality is now heavily dependant on the influence he is capable of delivering. He was the key man here and it was his aggressiveness that helped bring pedestrian early exchanges to life. Had no qualms rescuing Best at the lineout after the first two throws were lost and it was his catch that secured the possession for Kearney’s try in the other corner. Held up over the line on 47 minutes, he made sure he wasn’t stopped a second time 12 minutes later, squirming away from Aaron Wainwright to score.
JEAN KLEYN – 5
The player in the crosshairs in the controversy over Devin Toner’s omission from the World Cup squad, he gave away the early penalty that Halfpenny should have opened the scores with. Fared better after that and was at heart of the maul hold-up that earned Ireland a scrum from a Wales carry in the 22. Carried some ball, something Toner rarely used to do, but is still very raw at Test level and was gone for Iain Henderson on 53 minutes.
CJ STANDER – 7
Was like a jumbo struggling to get up off the runway at Twickenham and he started slowly again here, disappointment etched on his face when beaten at the lineout by Alun Wyn Jones. Bounced back by racing all over Patchell in the lead-up to Kearney’s try, an intervention that was the sparkle that led to him becoming way more positively involved and he finished as Ireland’s best ball carrier.
JOSH VAN DER FLIER – 6
Still needs to convince he has what it takes to star at the World Cup at openside, even though there were some encouraging pointers here. He was decent counter-rucking Welsh breakdown ball, he was busy tackling while he also demonstrated a nice turn of pace when breaking just before the interval. Helped shade Wales after the break and Ireland were well ahead when he left for Rhys Ruddock on the hour.
JACK CONAN – 7
It was encouraging to see him get another start at No8 as he does need a run of games in the position if he is to really establish himself as the real deal at this level. Did his chances no harm here with some decent enterprise. Ireland needed ball carriers and he wasn’t shy, a second-half break from the base of a scrum nearly resulting in him scoring.
By Liam Heagney, Ireland