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Player ratings: One-horse race

OPINION: After all the heroics when beating the All Blacks last weekend for the third time in five recent encounters, it was back to less glamorous fare for Andy Farrell’s Ireland when they hosted Argentina in Dublin looking to round off their 2021 year-end campaign with a 100 percent success rate.


Adding Argentina to the W list featuring Japan and New Zealand in November was very much the expected outcome and they didn’t disappoint in succeeding on a 53-7 scoreline.

Liam Heagney rates the Irish players!

Usually when it comes to jotting down player by player notes as the action unfolds, the section for the full-back is busy but this was a curious type of afternoon for one of Farrell’s must-pick-every-time players. It wasn’t until he put Robert Baloucoune away in the engineering of the third try that you noticed he was there. That isn’t a criticism, just an indication of the way the first-half unfolded. It didn’t stop him having a say, you could see his role as a director guiding and orchestrating those into position around him when Ireland had their first spell of attacking second-half pressure, but he exited on 51 minutes to allow rookie Harry Byrne have a spin at out-half with Joey Carbery reverting to full-back.

A try-scorer on his July debut versus the USA, it was clear that this raw talent from Enniskillen has the potential to become a long-term crowd favourite as the Aviva Stadium buzzed with anticipation when Keenan put him on the attack where he carried twice in the creating of the 37th-minute Doris try. Has a few more touches in the second period but not the type to close the gap on the first-choice Andrew Conway whose game is understandably far more rounded.

The tackle stats are always a go-to when assessing what this midfielder gets up to in a game. There are those who believe it is glaring weakness, others who insist there is such a thing as a good missed tackle. This fixture, though, was a game he completed with a welcome 0 in the missed tackle column of the mass of statistics that accompany a Test match. He carried often and passed decently.

Back in the team after his recent injury frustrations, he would have been keen to reprise the excellent form that carried him into the Lions Test side versus the Springboks. Didn’t hit those heights, but he wasn’t found wanting in any department either and he exited with a satisfied smile on his face on 66 minutes to give Keith Earls a run.


11. JAMES LOWE – 6
One of many stars last weekend when battering the All Blacks, it wasn’t until the 21st minute that he announced himself in this contest when helping to transform possession from a halfway scrum into the penalty five metres out from the line that gave Ireland the territory for their first try. Went on to execute a wonderful Gaelic football-style aerial fetch of a Conor Murray box kick which ignited the move for his team’s third try. Had a very quiet second half.

A third Test start for the 26-year-old in recent months following his horrible few years with injury, this was important as Farrell really wants him to step up and provide better competition for veteran Johnny Sexton, who missed this encounter through injury. There used to be a Marcus Smith-like hype about his ability to create and excite but this outing was about ding the basic things well and building up that level of robustness he has been short of at this bruising level. He showed appetite to hit, managing a ball-dislodging collision on Matias Moroni on 20 minutes and his array of skill was evident a catch and touch-finder nine minutes later. Was the recipient of a sneaky trip that was penalised just before his switch to full-back for the last half-hour. Generously awarded the official man of the match, which should have gone to one of the forwards. He finished eight from nine of the kicking tee for 18 points.

There are intriguingly interesting time for the scrum-half who spent years being touted as the best in the world in his position. That is no longer the case given how his recent Lions tour panned out and recently by how Jamison Gibson-Park has lifted his game to previously unknown levels. His trademark box kick was part of the tools he utilised here and while it is definitely not the most popular gambit, its effectiveness was demonstrated in how Lowe caught one in the lead-up to the Doris try. That reassuringly came just minutes after he was caught grasping air when Boffelli broke for the 34th-minute chance he ultimately messed up finishing. Exited for Craig Casey on 51 minutes without doing enough to suggest he will be a Six Nations starter in February.   

One of the must-watch players in this current Ireland set-up given his reinvention as a loosehead after years on the other side of the scrum. He was a ball of energy here despite getting done for hinging at a 19th-minute. He was soon celebrating a well-finished try and while he was again in penalty trouble after that, infringing at a ruck, his enthusiasm to battle the odds saw him credited with annoying Boffelli to knock-on with the line in front of him. Fittingly won a penalty at the ensuing scrum, going to help pierce Argentina’s early second-half rally before departing on 58 minutes with Ireland 34-7 clear and his job very well done.


Ireland has for years lacked a ball-carrying hooker, their usual picks at No2 being the sort who mainly concentrated on set-piece technique and grunt work that doesn’t earn public plaudits. Kelleher, though, is a very different type of operator and like to get his hands on the ball and ask questions that way of the opposition. He asked Argentina plenty here, carrying for a very generous amount, the type of handy work best seen in the gallop he makes in the lead-up to the Doris try.    

This endearing all-action hero showed he has now developed a gift for the onfield gab if a first-half chat with referee Matthew Carley, audible via the stadium-sold reflink, is an indicator. He wanted to talk about dynamic scrums and no sooner did play restart was the official awarding Ireland a scrum penalty. Furlong’s handling continued to be important to his team’s attack and he wasn’t shy of a carry either, a run near the interval the pick of his excellent bunch. Played 58 minutes before Tom O’Toole came on.

One of two late promotions for the bench, taking the starting shirt he had for Japan back from late cry-off Henderson, he was caught flatfooted by the stepping Boffelli for the third-minute Pumas try. That was his only black mark, though. It was his lineout catch and drive for van der Flier that put Ireland into a lead they never lost and he went on to be an influential nuisance in everything he did, stating his case for a more regular starting spot.   

Skipper for the day, Ryan exited on 39 minutes looking groggy but with Ireland 24-7 up and the result already in the bag. As disappointing as it is for player to go off that early with an injury, it gave Farrell the opportunity to see what Baird could do when playing in an XV of mainly first teamers and he was a delight to watch. It was his barnstorming 47th minute beak from halfway to the 22 that ended Argentina’s brief resistance, and he can take pride in launching the defence sucking maul that was the prompt for the second van der Flier try a few recycles later.

The other late promotion to the starting line-up with Conan dropping out injured and Caelan Doris switching to No8. As with Murray, the 2017 Lions skipper finds himself in the curious situation of being seen as a bench impact player, so this was a perfect opportunity to post a reminder he still has it as a Test starter. Was busy all through but it was notable how he has added an appetite to carry more ball that will help his cause no end. Took over as skipper following Ryan’s exit and has to be reprimanded by the referee for his language, roaring at Lavanini about “scumbag stuff” when he fouled Healy for the red card.

This would have been the type of fixture where a few years ago you’d worry that the openside would struggle to impose himself but there was no issues here as his game has influentially evolved under Farrell, which is a sign of a good coach. Finished with two tries and will feel pleased about helping his team boss the back row exchanges throughout. Played for 60 minutes before Nick Timoney’s arrival.

Moved over from blindside before kick-off, it was his monster break that got Ireland ticking after their sluggish start. Just as he was against the All Blacks, he was a pest here as his drive is the sort that makes him a more valuable operator for Ireland than CJ Stander used to be. His thirst to break contact was seen in his try just before the break, initially going backwards before absorbing the hit and driving on again to score. That was just one of many reasons for him to feel well pleased with himself.

Source: RugbyPass

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