Player ratings: Sweet revenge
OPINION: Ireland got back to action 15 weeks after they finished the Six Nations with a resounding flourish.
With seven players away in South Africa, CJ Stander now retired and veteran pair Johnny Sexton and Keith Earls both given the summer off, Andy Farrell was always going to have to hugely change his team.
Ireland went into their game against Japan with just four repeat starters from March – Hugo Keenan, Jacob Stockdale, Dave Kilcoyne and Josh van der Flier.
The wholesale rejig understandably had a sluggish impact on their performance, Ireland eventually securing a 39-31win over Japan – whom they lost to in a pool match in the World Cup in 2019.
Liam Heagney rates the Irish players!
15. HUGO KEENAN – 7
An ever-present under Farrell who could consider himself unlucky not to have been more in the Lions selection conversation, he showed early instinct to cover the field when snuffing out a Japanese kick through. He also demonstrated prowess under the garryowen when gathering a Joey Carbery kick and was excellent when joining the line to ignite the momentum for McCloskey’s score only to disappointingly miss a must-make tackle in Japan’s second try. That was an example of how he needs to better close the defensive door.
14. JORDAN LARMOUR – 4
Managed just the three carries in a frustrating 30 minutes that ended with an injury. He was replaced by Shane Daly who was soon suckered by the cross-kick for Japan’s second try before showing some promising footwork on a break before the interval. Defensively caught out again when Japan retook the lead just minutes into the second half. Overall, the rookie found it difficult to blend in when defending but he finished clocking up the most metres by an Irish player, 43 metres for four carries.
13. CHRIS FARRELL – 5
His first Test outing since the year-end Nations Cup playoff versus Scotland began with a try scored on eight minutes but his channel wasn’t an area where he was all that busy. Was gone less than three minutes into the second half after getting his head the wrong side of a tackle which allowed Billy Burns to come on.
12. STUART McCLOSKEY – 6
It’s a good job the soon-to-be 29-year-old is a patient operator as this was just his fifth cap – and a second under Farrell – since a February 2016 debut away to England. The Irish midfield struggled on his last outing against Georgia and he was worryingly left rooted to the spot defensively for the try Japan would have been awarded but for a forward pass. He redeemed himself with his try on 26 minutes but then gave away a no release penalty at the restart, a passage that highlighted his frequent inconsistencies. Was also seen joining Daly in tackling low which allowed the offload to get Japan a try back on 57 minutes.
11. JACOB STOCKDALE – 6
Largely anonymous in the first half with little activity on either side of the ball, but he highlighted his patience by sticking at it and being in the right spot to score the try that got Ireland 31-24 ahead.
10. JOEY CARBERY – 7
It was a sight for sore Irish eyes seeing the long lamented Carbery in an Ireland shirt. His injury run in recent years was extremely cruel but that lay-off hadn’t dimmed his ambition as it was his chip and successful chase around halfway that scattered the Japanese defence for the McCloskey try. There were signs of rustiness, though, as he had a pass in the opposition 22 intercepted and had missed four tackles by the break. Much tidier in the second half and he importantly finished with a tally of 14 points.
9. JAMISON GIBSON-PARK – 6
It was not that long ago when the Kiwi was talking himself up as the main Ireland No9 only for that ambition to get blown out of the water by the resurgence of Conor Murray who is now away skippering the Lions. He started here with a sloppy kick straight to touch and there were times when his direction wasn’t what was needed such as stepping to his right near the line when he could have backed himself to possibly score. Enjoyed a couple of try assists with his snappy pass but couldn’t adequately cover the deft kick through for Japan’s third try early in the second half. Was disappointing that replacement Craig Casey got only two token minutes.
1. DAVE KILCOYNE – 6
Loads of typical energy but he showed his true worth when winning a scrum penalty under his posts on 20 minutes to relieve pressure. Usually a prop to feature often on the ball, he didn’t register a single carry by the break and he exited on 59 minutes for Ed Byrne.
2. RONAN KELLEHER – 7
Started just once in five recent Six Nations appearances but a Lions training camp invite while they were in Jersey set him up to take the jersey from Rob Herring but he will be disappointed with his lineout throwing. You can maybe excuse the hooker when Peter O’Mahony and James Ryan get beaten to the jump, but not throwing straight was inexcusable. He at least carried very well, something best illustrated when he galloped forward in the creation of the second-half Stockdale try. Coach Farrell continued to stick by him and he then won the turnover penalty with twelve minutes left that allowed Carbery push Ireland eight points ahead. Only then did he depart for Herring having encouragingly overcome his moments of adversity.
3. FINLAY BEALHAM – 6
Had horrible memories of his last Ireland cap, the Georgian scrum the dominant set-piece last November at the Aviva, but he toiled away here on his return and was rewarded with the try with the clock in the red that allowed Ireland go in at the break ahead by two points after the conversion was kicked. Replaced by John Ryan on 59.
4. ULTAN DILLANE – 6
With Quinn Roux’s Ireland career over following his switch to the Top 14, the path is now a bit clearer for the 27-year-old to finally start delivering more to the Ireland set-up. This was just his fourth start in 19 Test caps and there will be annoyance with his flappy hands trying to fetch restart kicks. On the plus side, he showed good hands with a pass to Bealham in lead-up to the first Ireland try and he was his team’s top tackler by the break with nine. Saw out the third quarter before Ryan Baird came on who was easier on the eye, leaving three defenders beaten in his encouraging cameo.
5. JAMES RYAN – 6
Irish fans were left angered by Warren Gatland’s decision to bring Adam Beard into to the Lions last weekend and not Ryan. An adductor issue was the reason given at the time but Ryan’s performance here after proving his fitness was slack. His lineout interference gifted Japan their opening penalty points and while there was one big tackle on the visiting No8, a soft knock-on in a carry soon after and a lost lineout catch showed he wasn’t at his best self. Improved in the second half to lead Ireland to victory but his figures, bar the collection of seven lineout catches, were way down on what he usually contributes.
6. PETER O’MAHONY – 7
A first start in green for the seasoned back-rower since his damaging red card away to Wales in February, he carried sweetly in the collision with Michael Leith and then offloaded for McCloskey to score for a 12-10 lead. That is a skill which Ireland must produce more of. He also won an important ruck penalty with Ireland 12-17 behind and only left the fray on 71 minutes to allow Gavin Coombes his Test debut.
7. JOSH VAN DER FLIER – 7
The esteemed chop tackler has been the player who has been most in and out of Farrell’s XVs the past 17 months but he showed against England how he has added more of a threat while on the ball. Here, though, tackling was the initial priority in a difficult first half and it was only in added time when he carried just short of the line, a signal that boded well as he scored on 49 minutes to drag Ireland level at 24-all. Also threatened the line in the lead-up to Stockdale’s try and still finished top tackler with 13.
8. CAELAN DORIS – 8
Excellent to see the Test level rookie with tonnes of promise back in action following his issues with concussion and he was his team’s most impressive forward despite coughing up some turnovers. For instance, it was his dominant carry that generated the momentum for Ireland’s opening try, and his footwork was also pivotal in the van der Flier score. His effort was a heartwarming bundle of energy.