Rugby

Rating Every Irish Performance Across The 2017 Six Nations

Rating Every Irish Performance Across The 2017 Six Nations

The 2017 Six Nations was the most novel edition of the tournament, what with the addition of the bonus point system and the fact that Scotland briefly looked like achieving something big.

But as the competition recedes from our mind and takes up its place in history, Ireland are left with a familiar feeling of ambivalence: the high of foiling England tempered by underachievement in Edinburgh and Cardiff.

So looking back at the tournament as a whole, how did each player do? Here, we rate each Irish performance out of ten. Do let us know how violently you disagree.

The full-backs

Rob Kearney - 5.5

Kearney had a constant lobbyist in Stephen Jones, who believes he should be the starting Lions full-back. Outside of Jones' contrarian matrix, Kearney was, in reality, grand. He was solid in the air, and bar the first half-aberration in Murrayfield, his positioning was good in the four games he played. His contribution to Ireland's attack, however, was found wanting: his passing was frequently sloppy, and his ball-carrying continues to be frustratingly one-dimensional.

Best moment: That scorching break in the second half at Murrayfield.

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Jared Payne - 6.5

Payne only played one game: against England. He is a very different option to Kearney: less reliable in the air (he clumsily spilled twice against England), but was far more effective in attack. Somehow played eighty minutes against England, despite looking gassed by the half-hour mark.

Best moment: The second-half break against England, ended as it was by a high Vunipola tackle that Garces showed no interest in.

The Wingers

Simon Zebo - 6.5

An unspectacular tournament from Zebo, but you get the feeling that Schmidt won't mind that too much. He struggled defensively early on against Wales, enjoyed himself immensely against Italy, and frequently ran through the middle of the field, off Sexton's inside shoulder against England, to little success.

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Best moment: His thirty-minute spell at full-back against France with Kearney off the field through injury.

Keith Earls - 7.5

A fine tournament by Earls: he was Ireland's best back in Murrayfield and our best attacker against Wales, and his ball-carrying was generally effective, frequently making up ground after the tackle. Nailed down as a starter now.

Best moment: Flattening Mike Brown in the Aviva without batting an eyelid.

Tommy Bowe - N/A 

Unfair to award Bowe a marking, so scant was his contribution: his sole involvement against Scotland was the concession of a penalty, and he lasted a matter of minutes in Cardiff before succumbing to injury. Potentially his final Six Nations.

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Best moment: N/A.

Craig Gilroy - N/A

Gilroy was only involved for half an hour against Italy, yet scored a hat-trick, meaning he ended the tournament as the joint-top try scorer. Unfair to give out a score based on a half-hour of action in Rome, a performance Schmidt described as a "mixed bag" despite the hat-trick.

Best moment: Collecting a CJ Stander kick to touch down in Rome on his way to a hattrick.

Andrew Trimble - N/A

A substitute appearance against France before a broken bone in his hand put paid to the rest of his tournament.

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Best moment: N/A

Andrew Conway - N/A

Included in the original squad, injury denied him a first Six Nations appearance until the second half against England, in which he performed creditably.

Best moment: Line speed against England set the tone for a fine performance.

The centres 

Robbie Henshaw - 7.5

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Ireland's main first receiver, although his ball carrying was often frustratingly one-dimensional, which isn't really his fault. The error in disallowing try in Wales was egregious, but it masked a phenomenal defensive performance.

Best moment: His tackling in an absurdly intense ninety seconds in Cardiff.

Garry Ringrose - 7

After a very wobbly opening half against Scotland, Ringrose recovered well. From a defensive point of view, he improved exponentially from there, and frequently looked on the cusp of exploding as an attacker, without ever doing so.

Best moment: His try against Italy.

The half-backs 

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Johnny Sexton - 8.5 

Having missed the opening two games, Sexton returned against France and reminded us all that he is Ireland's best rugby player. A grinding Irish attack found its lubricant with Sexton' return, with Ireland's worst spells in Cardiff coming while he was off the field. His defensive contribution was great too: the tackle in Cardiff that resulted in a yellow saved a certain try, while he had sensational choke tackle turnovers in either half against England. Goalkicking spot on, too.

Best moment: The choke tackle turnover on James Haskell in the second half at the Aviva.

Paddy Jackson: 7 

Jackson will never be selected ahead of a fully-fit Sexton, but he did well in Murrayfield, particularly in orchestrating the second-half fightback, and was efficient in Rome. Conversely, his being caught cold through the ten channel on the first Welsh try in Cardiff in the first minute of Sexton's HIA was criticised by Schmidt.

Best moment: The try against Scotland.

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Ian Keatley - N/A

Played the closing minutes in Rome becoming Ireland's most incongruent winger in Italy since Peter O'Mahony.

Best moment: N/A.

Conor Murray - 8.5 

A tournament ultimately curbed by injury, but up to the sustaining of that arm injury against Wales, he had an outstanding competition after a slow start against Scotland, ending in his man of the match performance against the French, outshining the electric Baptiste Serrin. No doubt about the identity of the Lions scrum-half.

Best moment: A box kick to the corner late on against the French: divine in execution; devastating in effect.

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Kieran Marmion - 7

Disabused Schmidt of any doubts concerning his ability at this level with a solid outing off the bench against Wales and a very fine performance against England.

Best moment: A try-saving tackle on Elliot Daly in the first half in Dublin, the only moment of that half in which England looked threatening.

Luke McGrath - N/A

Only played 20 minutes, but he showed remarkable promise in making his Six Nations bow against England, meaning Marmion didn't have long to bask in his performance before worrying about his spot on the bench.

Best moment: That kick to the corner against England. Murray-esque.

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The back-row

Jamie Heaslip - 6.5

A mixed bag from a tournament that ended with questions regarding how automatic his selection is in the Irish back row. While he was poor against Wales, knocking on egregiously, he was the outstanding performer in the dismal first quarter against France, his work-rate and leadership to the fore as the rest of his teammates toiled.

Best moment: Being the sole Irish performer to turn up for the first twenty minutes against France.

Sean O'Brien - 5.5 

A worryingly underwhelming showing from O'Brien, the kind of performance that might play himself out of Warren Gatland's mind for the Lions. His ball-handling was consistently sloppy, and the tournament was notable for its lack of O'Brien ball-carrying. His work rate at the breakdown was slightly better, especially against England. Had Van Der Flier not been injured on Leinster duty, we may not have seen O'Brien start all five games.

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Best moment: Taking no shit from Joe Marler in the first half at the Aviva.

CJ Stander - 9

Stander swapped the colour of jersey from red to green, but his form remained the same, and was Ireland's best ball-carrying option (albeit that is damning with faint praise in relation to the Wales game). Unfortunate to make way in Cardiff for O'Mahony, and has made himself undroppable.

Best moment: In Rome, when he scored the first Irish Six Nations hat-trick since Rob Henderson in 2001. Not that Stander's record lasted long...

Peter O'Mahony - 9 

Grafted his way into the Irish team, and now he is pretty much undroppable. Strong against France, he was Ireland's best player off the bench in Cardiff and the best of all of those who played at the Aviva last Saturday. His line-out work is exceptional, as is his work-rate on the ground. O'Briena and Heaslip will be looking over their shoulders.

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Best moment: The lineout steal against England.

Josh Van Der Flier - 7

Performed creditably off the bench against Scotland and Italy, before being denied further involvement by injury.

Best moment: Coming on as Ireland's most influential substitute against Scotland.

Dan Leavy - N/A

Like Luke McGrath, he made his Six Nations debut in the final minutes against England, and didn't put a foot wrong. Yet another fine option for the Irish back row.

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Best moment: N/A

The second rows

Devin Toner - 6

A tournament in which Toner's stock fell, after a November series in which he was virtually undroppable. Took a bit of the heat for the failure of the lineout against Scotland and Wales, ending in his being subbed for Peter O'Mahony in Cardiff and his dropping against England.

Best moment: Responded well to exclusion with an impressive showing off the bench against England.

Donnacha Ryan - 8

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A very fine tournament by Ireland's elder statesman. His work rate throughout the competition was superb, and his anthem singing spot on, as per.

Best moment: A monstrous second half line break against Wales, that led to Ireland's greatest period of sustained pressure.

Iain Henderson - 6.5 

A poor first outing against Scotland was corrected with a superb showing against England, and it was he who scored the critical try. Schmidt must be begging Les Kiss to make Henderson a regular in the Ulster second row.

Best moment: The try against England.

Ultan Dillane - 5.5

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Disappointingly quiet off the bench against Scotland, with nothing but the winning margin left to effect when he took up duty in Rome before injury out paid to an underwhelming spring.

Best moment: N/A

Hookers

Rory Best - 6.5 

Mixed from the captain: his line-out malfunctioned in both defeats, while he was totally ineffective in the loose agaisnt Wales. He responded superbly against England, mind.

Best moment: The offload in the first half against England, immediately prior to being taken off for a HIA. Magic.

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Niall Scannell - 7

In Sean Cronin's absence, Scannell got the nod as Best's deputy. Acquitted himself well in Rome, and did not let Ireland down as a replacement against France and England.

Best moment: Starting in Rome.

James Tracy - N/A

Got a run out off the bench in Rome, and was otherwise uninvolved.

Best moment: N/A

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Props

Jack McGrath - 7.5

A very fine tournament by McGrath, in which he was part of a front row that won 100% of its scrums. Peppered performances with the odd error, however, and gave away a monumentally stupid penalty against England with which Schmidt will be furious.

Best moment: A cracking turnover in the opening minute against Wales set the tone for a fine personal performance.

Tadhg Furlong - 8.5 

Outstanding. The Irish scrum won all of its engagements, which is a testament to his contribution. Bar a couple of dodgy knock-ons against Wales, Furlong was brilliant, and left to a massive ovation against England. A lions starter.

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Best moment: Pick a scrum. Any scrum.

Cian Healy - 7

Great to see Healy back, injury-free, and his impact from the Irish bench was a major reason for the continued solidity for the Irish scrum throughout each of the five games.

Best moment: Telling Sexton to get to his feet against England as soon as he entered the field, to show that the late hits don't have him rattled. Good leadership.

John Ryan - 6

Ryan was a steady influence any time he replaced Furlong, although the fact the latter played the full eighty against Wales is indicative of the gap between bench and starter.

Best moment: Making four tackles in the twelve minutes he had in Murrayfield.

Gavin Cooney
Article written by
Changed the spelling of his name upon pressure from Michael Owen.

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