A fine second half performance from Ireland against Canada saw them win easily in the end, on a scoreline of 52-21. But which players may have put themselves in contention for some playing time when New Zealand seek revenge at the Aviva Stadium on Saturday?
Canada put up a stoic first-half resistance at the Aviva Stadium as they made the most of a sloppy 40 minutes from Joe Schmidt’s second-string Ireland side to trail just 21-14 at the interval. But the class of the home side always looked as though it would prevail in the end, and so it proved, as a second-half of far more composure and attacking guile saw them home.
In terms of scores on the board, Ireland crossed the whitewash three times in the first 40, before upping the tempo of the tie and adding a quintet of five pointers after the break. That sloppy first-half display leaked-in two Canada tries, while an improved rearguard in the second half saw just one Canada score.
A comfortable victory was always the likely outcome and so it proved. Ireland’s 61% possession and 68% territory show their dominance in the simplest of terms, which was reflected on the scoreboard at the close.
The real subplot to Sunday’s Test was whether anyone in the 15 could do enough to muscle their way into the starting team for next weekend’s clash with New Zealand. Schmidt will have his own ultra analytical take on the performances but it is hard to see much change in the first XV following the outing.
Paddy Jackson over Joey Carberry
The most likely to enter the 23 for the All Blacks II match is Paddy Jackson. The Ulster out-half chipped in with six conversions in his 68-minute outing and looked every bit the safe pair of hands at first five-eighth. Jackson’s experience at both international and provincial level makes him almost certain to jump Carberry into the 22 jersey for next weekend and some intricate and incisive playmaking backed that up.
A few moments stood out, such as his interlinking with Keith Earls and Luke Marshall for the latter’s try on 22 minutes. A carry of his own just after half-time, which was one of six and 32m made, was allied to a game in which he kept ball-in-hand at every available opportunity.
Joey Carberry had just 12 minutes on the pitch in order to fight back in the selection battle and in fact made a significant impression during that time as Ireland crossed for two tries and he himself beat a defender and offloaded in 4m carried. However, two missed conversions will surely swing it Jackson’s way.
Ultan Dillane pushing for starting slot
The Devin Toner-Donnacha Ryan pairing at lock will be very hard to displace for next week but man-of-the-match Ultan Dillane did everything in his power to make it happen.
A superb performance in the loose saw him make 36m, one clean break and beat four defenders. The yardage is of particulate note as it was the most gained by any pack member.
One would imagine Schmidt will stick with Toner-Ryan for consistency; however, with Dillane to provide impetus off the bench in the closing quarter. Ten tackles also pressed his credentials as a defender; if Ireland are under pressure in their own 22 late on against the All Blacks his fresh legs as a replacement could be the best use of the Connacht man.
Keith Earls over Garry Ringrose
Another solid showing from Munsterman Earls has earmarked him for the 23 jersey on Saturday. Earls made 89m – more than any other Irishman – on Saturday, amidst making four clean breaks and beating four defenders. He was the go-to man for Ireland in attack and was the instigator for the first of Tiernan O’Halloran’s brace of tries - with a carry and hand-off on Gordon McRorie - and made a superb intercept in the second half. His tackle and resulting turnover on the hour mark led directly to Dillane’s try. Too experienced to ignore.
Garry Ringrose would be the man to lose his place should Earls be promoted and while harsh on the youngster it seems the right option. Ringrose himself had a fine game and was only denied a try on his debut through a forward pass in the build-up. His outside pass to O’Halloran for the penultimate Ireland try was perfectly timed. He looks at home at this level but perhaps game time against Australia is a better option for his first game time against tier-one opposition.
Sean O’Brien inclusion still up for debate
Fitness is the issue with Sean O’Brien. At 100% he is guaranteed to start at openside, but he didn’t look quite there yet on Saturday and a knock-on in the Canada 22 after 18 minutes showed a little bit of rustiness. He was Ireland’s second highest yardage-maker in the pack with 35m and did lend ballast to the offence but it was not with the same momentum as he is able to provide. It’s going to be a very tight call between himself and Josh van der Flier.
If Schmidt wants experience above all else he will call upon O’Brien to start, asking for a 50-minute performance before calling him ashore and using Van der Flier’s energy and stamina in the final 30. Alternatively, O’Brien could be drafted in at No 20 and used as a potential game-changer in the final quarter. Hard to know what Schmidt will decide on this one. Perhaps O’Brien did just enough to start next weekend.
Peter O’Mahony not yet back to his best
A solid performance all round from the Munster captain but likely not enough to earn a place in the team. CJ Stander’s dynamism and current form is too good to bring in O’Mahony, who still looks short of his best. Had a solid game at the breakdown but didn’t do enough to contribute in the loose to force a promotion.
Cian Healy versus Dave Kilcoyne
The talk entering the tie was could Cian Healy push his way past Jack McGrath into the starting XV. On this evidence that is not going to happen.
Healy chipped in excellently with 13m yardage from 17 carries and beat two defenders but like O’Brien he still looks a little off his best. McGrath’s place at No 1 is safe for now.
In fact, a contender for the No 17 jersey has come to the fore. David Kilcoyne was immense off the bench and gave another one of his outstanding displays with ball-in-hand. He made 22m and again looked like one of Ireland’s best attacking options at pillar. If there is to to be a change at prop it would be Kilcoyne in on the bench, although Healy’s big-game experience – and ability to break tackles when carrying - should mean he retains that slot.
The best of the rest
Sean Cronin won’t be starting against the All Blacks but there is no question about his place as No 16. His impact on the ball is one of Ireland’s best weapons off the bench and bar one lost lineout early on his darts were very good. He’s becoming one of the keys to the Ireland squad game. Also carried for 17m.
Finlay Bealham was similarly impressive. Had a wobbly enough time in the scrum at times but made a decent contribution in the loose; between himself and Tadhg Furlong, Mike Ross will struggle to get back into the fold in the immediate future.
Kieran Marmion looked nailed on to retain the replacements scrum-half slot and a fairly faultless performance did little to change that.
Like Jackson, he relied on the pass over the boot on a day Ireland showed they were content to play patient rugby and wait for gaps to open.
It’s worth noting that Marmion only made 4m yardage against Canada; compare that to Conor Murray’s 28m against New Zealand and you can see why Murray is just so irreplaceable at No 9 right now. Marmion’s passing game is very solid but it would be interesting to see him take on more ball himself in an Ireland shirt.
A mixed bag for Luke Marshall. Took his try well and made good ground with 27m but at times looked to be trying too hard. An aimless kick in the ninth minute and an atrocious pass which led to an intercept and try on 24 minutes stood out as mistakes which show why he is a still down the midfield pecking order. A good showing, but not a great showing. To Marshall’s credit he made nine tackles, the second highest of any Irishman, as Canada attempted to target the 12 channel.
Craig Gilroy did exceptionally well going forward and the stats back that up with 52m made from ten carries, four clean breaks, two defenders beaten and an offload. Andrew Trimble won’t be displaced in the starting team but Gilroy made a point with this display.
Like Gilroy, Tiernan O’Halloran won’t be usurping Rob Kearney in the first XV but this outing was superb. Two tries, 69m carried, two clean breaks and two defenders beaten, and a display that just oozed Test-match ability marked him out as one of the star performers. With Kearney now 30, and Jared Payne 31, 25-year-old O’Halloran could have a part to play at the 2019 World Cup. Schmidt will be watching his performances with Connacht very closely.