Player Ratings: Back on track?
OPINION: Hapless as the records tumbled for all the wrong reasons in London last weekend, Ireland badly needed to bounce back against the Welsh in Cardiff and they ultimately did despite a frantic finish to a match that ended 22-17 in their favour.
Rugbypass’ Liam Heagney rates the Irish players
15 WILL ADDISON – 5
A fringe player dependent on his versatility to get him into the World Cup squad, he clocked up metres carrying from the back but there will be questions as to how effective that yardage genuinely was. Opened with a smart kick that had Wales scampering back to their goal line, but was lamely driven into touch on halfway on 17 minutes. Had very little to do in defence, so blunt were the Welsh in first-half attack. Came back temporarily from an early second-half blood bin before giving way permanently on 58 minutes to Garry Ringrose. Will be worried he didn’t do enough. Then again, in his absence, Ringrose’s defence didn’t go well as he missed the tackle for Rhys Patchell’s try on 76 minutes.
14 ANDREW CONWAY – 7
Another occupying the high 20s/low 30s in the squad pecking order, he did his chances of selection for Japan no harm at all with an inventive effort that illustrated his usual collection of guts, bravery and safe hands. It was his incisive running that jolted an initially miserable contest to life on 17 minutes, carving open the Welsh defence to put Jacob Stockdale in at the corner. He should have scored himself on 54 minutes, but the try was ruled out for Jack Carty throwing the pass forward.
13 CHRIS FARRELL – 4
Bearing in mind his lack of versatility, he really needed a huge show at centre to demonstrate that he is a specialist midfielder who just can’t be left at home for RWC. He was admittedly his usual aggressive presence in the collision, but his sleight of hand is something that leaves him struggling when compared to fellow Irish centres and it drastically undermined him on 49 minutes when he knocked on five metres from the Welsh line.
12 BUNDEE AKI – 6
Missing in action in the Irish humiliation at Twickenham and put under further pressure with Brian O’Driscoll’s midweek call on RugbyPass that the first-choice partnership should be Robbie Henshaw and Ringrose, Aki gave it socks in Cardiff to restore some of his buffeted reputation. Suffered an inaccurate start, knocking on early and also throwing a pass forward, but then settled into a more eye-catching rhythm that resulted in a near 50-metre carrying total by half-time. Was pinged just before the break for holding on at the ruck, but continue to be busy throughout a second half where the only downside was a tackle in the air that ruled out Ringrose’s 72nd minute try.
11 JACOB STOCKDALE – 7
Only hung around for 40 minutes but that was enough for him to get back into the groove following his below-par run at Twickenham. A couple of turnovers will have boosted his confidence as a defender which was dented by the manner of England running amok, and he was savvy and streetwise in the attack, a feeling added to by a no-nonsense, serious-looking haircut. It was his carry that sparked the pressure for Jack Carty’s opening penalty, and his footwork then got him over the line twice, first rounding off Conway’s break and then stealing Aaron Shingler’s needlessly loose pass on halfway to kick ahead and score. His interval replacement Dave Kearney was muted by contrast.
10 JACK CARTY – 7
This out-half has always been an under-rated commodity, but this first Test start following a number of caps off the bench will do his chances of beating Ross Byrne in the squeeze for RWC half-back spots no harm at all as he was excellent. There was variety, there was tidiness and there was some last-quarter composure that was just enough to ensure Ireland clung on to their five-point win. The one blemish was the forward pass that denied Conway a second-half score, but that error wasn’t enough for the official man of the match award to be taken away from him.
9 KIERAN MARMION – 6
Will be pleased that his provincial rapport with Connacht colleague Carty was able to make a positive impression at Test level. There were little or no frills on his part, as playing it safe in his role was the approach that best suited to help rebuild the confidence of Irish forwards who spent far too long on the back foot in London. It was Marmion who won an important penalty at a Welsh ruck in the 22 to douse early second-half pressure. Being strong and durable over opposition ball isn’t a position you expect to find him in. Gave way on 60 minutes to Luke McGrath, who went on to produce a fine try-saving intervention eight minutes later.
8 DAVE KILCOYNE – 8
The loosehead was the RugbyPass man of the match for his 45-minute effort. It can’t be easy demanding notice when competing with the likes of Cian Healy and Jack McGrath, two Lions who keep winning honours with Leinster. But Kilcoyne has come on a ton at this level in 2019 and Wales couldn’t keep him quiet. He made over 30 metres off five first-half carries, led the Irish tackle count by the interval, laid down the early marker at the scrum and burst through Josh Navidi in the early creation of the opening Stockdale try. He exited for a HIA early in the second half and impressive emergency loosehead Andrew Porter, who has played tighthead the past three years, arrived to force home the initiative at the scrum, Wales’ Leon Brown seeing yellow before a penalty try was eventually awarded.
7 NIALL SCANNELL – 6
After the nightmare that was Ireland’s lineout at Twickenham, Scannell will be pleased there was far greater reliability at a set-piece where the one downside was seeing a throw to Peter O’Mahony early in the second half pilfered. Before that, he was on the money, even chancing variation with one quick throw to Tadhg Beirne at the front just outside the Irish 22 on 23 minutes. Demonstrating vigilance getting around the park, his general play was summed up by scooping up loose Welsh possession on the floor on his 22. With Ireland enjoying a 15-3 advantage he departed on 52 minutes knowing he had enhanced his status, an impression endorsed by Rory Best and co struggling in a frantic final 10 minutes.
6 JOHN RYAN – 5
He did his nuts and bolts no problem, giving Ireland some stability at the scrum after an initial mishap and helping the lifting at the lineout run smoothly. But what lets Ryan down by comparison with his positional rivals is an ordinary level of contribution in other aspects of the game. Would have felt he needed longer than the 52 minutes he got as the next few minutes was where Ireland, with Tadhg Furlong having come on, really turned the screw on the Welsh scrum and he missed out.
5 IAIN HENDERSON – 5
Looked way more at ease partnering James Ryan than combining a week ago with rookie Jean Kleyn, who looked out his depth at Twickenham. Henderson was still laboured here in parts, looking like a player who needs yet another game before the pre-season cobwebs have truly been dusted off, but this was a step in the right direction.
4 JAMES RYAN – 7
Whereas Ireland badly lacked directness and physicality against England, the talisman Ryan was to the fore in altering that situation against Wales. He led the way in the tight exchanges which helped unsettle an unfamiliar Welsh XV and ensure Ireland were very good value for their interval lead. Departed on 52 minutes for Devin Toner knowing he had laid the platform for a win that was more comfortable than the final scoreline suggested.
3 TADHG BEIRNE – 6
After being swamped in the Cardiff deluge last March, Beirne managed to do numerous positive things here under the Principality Stadium roof that will ensure he is at the centre of the debate Joe Schmidt will be having on what back rows to bring to Japan. He didn’t let this golden chance slip and was important in subduing a Welsh back row that on paper was capable of doing more damage. His nimbleness in falling on loose Welsh ball four minutes before the break highlighted his thirst for involvement, but the big question is has he done enough to get ahead of Rhys Ruddock, an old favourite of Schmidt’s, in the RWC pecking order.
2 PETER O’MAHONY – 7
The lack of balance in the Irish back row exposed him last weekend but he looked more like his usual self here, inspired by both the captaincy and getting a rare chance to play at openside. He was a nuisance for the 60 minutes he was on the pitch before being replaced by Jordi Murphy and while he was at fault for the not rolling away penalty that allowed Wales tie the game early on at 3-3, he led his team well and showed to Schmidt he is well able for the responsibility in Japan should Best’s halo slip any further.
1 JACK CONAN – 6
He continues to be one of the likely lads of this Irish set-up, someone who oozes talent but struggles to consistently leave it all out there on the pitch when given a big chance. With CJ Stander anonymous against the English, this was an opportunity to make a timely impression ahead of Ireland’s September 8 World Cup selection announcement, but he didn’t outstandingly shine to heap the pressure on Stander. Was penalised for the offside that resulted in Jarrod Evans missing what should have been a three-point kick on 26 minutes.