Rugby

How The Irish Players Rated Across The 2018 Six Nations

How The Irish Players Rated Across The 2018 Six Nations

Rarely has all heaven broken loose in such ordered fashion as in Twickenham last Saturday, as Ireland remorselessly sauntered to a third Grand Slam in history. After the heartstopping drama of Paris, Ireland largely cruised to arguably their greatest-ever triumph. While 2009 ended in ecstasy and the sloughing off of decades of disappointment, 2018 is arguably the more impressive achievement.

While the Grand Slammers of '09 were blessed with a freakish absence of injury, the 2018 crop saw their fourth-choice outside centre fall to injury in training ahead of the penultimate round of fixtures. Joe Schmidt used 30 different players across the five games, and here's how we rated their performances.

Backs

Rob Kearney - 8.5

Kearney has been rewarded with a new contract until the end of the 2019 World Cup, and it is richly deserved. Across this championship, he silenced his oddly numerous critics, most notably with a man-of-the-match performance against Scotland and a febrile fronting up in Twickenham. His defence occasionally wobbled - against Scotland, for example - but his attacking was better than it has been in years and would have had a try against Italy were it not for a last-ditch interception...by Roman Poite.

Best moment - Winning a ball above Stuart Hogg that set the platform for Ireland's third, and match-winning, try against Scotland.

Keith Earls - 9 

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Earls is in the running for player of the tournament, and rightly so. After an indifferent few years with Ireland, Earls emerged as one of his country's key players across this championship. The tries dried up as the tournament progressed but he won't care. He is now an automatic selection for Schmidt.

Best moment - Those who backed Ireland to beat the spread against Italy will never forget his incredible last-gasp chase on Mattia Bellini while a GIF of his tap tackle on Johnny May in Twickenham should hang in the Tate. But it's his catch high in the Parisian sky from Sexton's crossfield kick as the clock hit red outweighs all subsequent endeavours, made all the more impressive that he had knocked on minutes earlier.

Robbie Henshaw - 7 

Cruel on Henshaw that his tournament was ended in scoring a try against Italy, a moment that was uncomfortably redolent of Alan Quinlan in Lens. It is a testament to Schmidt's system and the strength in depth that he was not missed in the Triple Crown games.

Best moment - His first try against the Italians.

Chris Farrell - 8 

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It was cruel on Farrell that his season was ended innocuously in training days after a man-of-the-match Six Nations debut against Wales. Ireland, however, may not have won a Grand Slam without him, such was his contribution in that game.

Best moment - Setting the tone for his solitary start with an almighty smash on Leigh Halfpenny in the first minute at the Aviva.

Garry Ringrose - 9 

Fortunate that Ringrose found his way back to fitness just in time for the final fortnight. Ringrose is a class apart and, in spite of Ireland's wealth of options, remains first-choice at outside-centre. Notable that Ireland looked slightly less susceptible out wide when he was defending.

Best moment - That try five minutes into his first trip to Twickenham.

Bundee Aki - 8 

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Aki was finally felled in the last half-hour of proceedings at Twickenham, having withstood an abrasive championship to then. Given it was his first Six Nations, and had to contend with a revolving cast of centre partners, Aki can reflect on this tournament with deep satisfaction.

Best moment - The pass off his left to CJ Stander in Twickenham, the penultimate act in a fabulous move.

Jacob Stockdale - 8.5 

Okay, there are defensive issues but still: the first man to score seven tries in a Six Nations tournment, taking his overall tally to 11 in nine Tests. An outlandish strike rate that saw his place of birth on Wikipedia briefly switched from Lurgan to Another Planet. We are going to lead the petition to change it back.

Best moment - Myriad to choose from, but it has to be the Twickenham try. His refusal to plead for a penalty try and instead touch down in the (extended) in-goal area speaks volumes for his ambitions.

Jordan Larmour - 7

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Larmour didn't get a start across the championship, but saw off the challenge of Fergus McFadden for a place on the bench. He then went on to win a Grand Slam featuring on the wing (vs Italy), full-back (vs Scotland) and at centre (vs England). For a 20-year-old guy whose main ambition at the start of the season was to get a game for Leinster 'A', that's not bad.

Best moment - Having struggled defensively against Italy, Larmour tossed out a portent for future days with a breathtaking late break. So much more to come.

Fergus McFadden - 5.5

McFadden deservedly battled his way back into the squad off the back of his Leinster form, but disappointed for Ireland this Spring. He made little impact in Paris, and undermined his showing against Wales with a very slopy knock-on.

Best moment - Forcing his way into the matchday 23 against France having rekindled his form for Leinster.

Johnny Sexton - 9.5

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There would be no Grand slam without his audacity in Paris. Sexton wasn't at his best in subsequent games, amid whispers he was carrying injury. But even when he's off-form, he is still too good for many of the mere mortals that lined him up in this championship: his passing against Wales was immaculate. It is no coincidence that Ireland have won a Grand Slam by keeping him on the field for as long as possible.

Best moment - Hmmm.....tough one.

Joey Carbery - 7 

While any injury to Sexton is treated with not-so-quiet desperation among most Irish fans, Carbery proved himself to be an adept reserve across this championship, coming into it having played very little rugby owing to injury.

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Best moment - Helping to close out the game in Twickenham, amid a very inexperienced backline.

Conor Murray - 9.5 

Murray is probably out in front as the best scrum-half in the world; he certainly has no equal. Another nigh-on perfect championship in 2018, bar perhaps a couple of errant box-kicks in the earlier games if you are going to nit-pick on a forensic level. The guy can do everything - including jumping in lineouts.

Best moment - Loads to pick from, but we're going to plump for the placekick he converted against Wales.

Kieran Marmion - 6 

Marmion got the nod ahead of Luke McGrath, and did fine as Murray' replacement throughout.

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Best moment - Closing out the Slam on the wing in Twickenham - the second time he has ended up on the wing for Ireland.

 

Forwards 

Cian Healy - 8 

For a man who had to reckon with the end recently, this was a stunning championship from Healy that ended in a richly-deserved Slam. He was part of a rock-solid Irish scrum, but it was some of his work in the loose that caught the eye.

Best moment - His try against Wales. Although a mention for a clear-out in the opening game in which he plucked a couple of French players out of a ruck with either hand.

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Jack McGrath - 7 

While he will be disappointed to be dislodged from the starting XV, this was a good championship for McGrath after some concerns over his form in the Autumn. He is essentially job-sharing with Healy for the loosehead position, which is an enormous luxury for Joe Schmidt.

Best moment - Leaving the field against Italy as Ireland's top tackler, in a ferocious performance.

Rory Best - 8 

Best does litter his performances with an odd errant throw, and was below-par around the field against France, but recovered from there to reassert the fact that the captain deserves his place in this team.

Best moment - Lifting a Grand Slam title, having already led Ireland to a Test win in South Africa and a win against the All Blacks. A remarkably successful Irish captain...with more yet to come.

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Sean Cronin - 8

Having drifted from the squad in recent months, Cronin returned to the international fold with a bang this time around. He will always say that he wants to start games, but it is hard to think of a better and more consistent replacement than Cronin.

Best moment - It's a toss-up between scoring the bonus point-clinching try against the Scots and shoveling Mike Brown into touch in Twickenham. We will let your opinion of Brown decide which was the better moment.

Tadhg Furlong - 9 

Having only made his debut in 2015, there is already a case to be made that Furlong is Ireland's greatest-ever tighthead prop. In spite of effectively missing two of the five games, he is a shoo-in for the team of the tournament.

Best moment - The pass that set in motion the second try against England.

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Andrew Porter - 8 

When Furlong limped off after three minutes against Italy, a nation fidgeted uncomfortably. Even before Furlong was ruled out against Wales, Porter had assuaged many of our conerns. A stunning rise for a converted loosehead prop, who was also mightily effective in the loose. In a tournament seething with positivies, Porter's emergence is among the best of the lot.

Best moment - Just shy of the hour mark against Wales, Ireland won an attacking scrum to the right of the centre of the field. The Welsh front-row needed to meet the rookie Irish prop with fury to disabuse Ireland of a great attacking position. Three minutes later, Ireland had a bonus point try and the Welsh front row were subbed. Quite the vindication.

John Ryan - 6 

Ryan has now dropped to third-choice tighthead after a difficult introduction in Paris. Ryan was pinged at a scrum for a penalty that France should have converted, which would have left Sexton's drop-goal moot. Recovered, however, to make a decent impact against Wales as Porter's replacement.

Best moment - Winning a scrum penalty against Wales with five minutes left on the clock, exorcising the demons of Paris.

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James Ryan - 8.5 

A Six Nations introduction made remarkable by how unremarkable it seemed. Ryan looks like he has been playing for Ireland for years...which he will undoubtedly do. Incredibly, Ryan has yet to lose a professional game of rugby.

Best moment - Leaving his Six Nations debut against France made more carries, tackles, and metres than any of his teammates.

Iain Henderson - 8 

The kind of championship performance that will add a bit more to the bottom line of his next contract. Henderson left his best performance to last, and a further encouraging sign is that his elevation to senior second-row had no adverse effect on the lineout.

Best moment - This defence against England.

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Devin Toner - 7 

With Tadhg Beirne soon to be repatriated, Toner might be sweating on his place in the squad in a year's time. While Ryan has dislodged him from the starting lineup, Toner responded well with a series of consistent performances.

Best moment - Staving off the challenge of Henderson to start against Scotland.

Quinn Roux - 5 

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Owing to injuries, roux was drafted in to play a half against Italy and the closing stages against Wales but made little impact.

Best moment - His role in Rory Best's try against Italy.

Jordi Murphy - 7 

A move to Ulster next season promises consistent game time, and this championship showed that Murphy remains in Schmidt's thoughts. While he benefitted from injuries to a couple of his Leinster colleagues this time around, Murphy grabbed his chance.

Best moment - An early carry following his introduction against Scotland. Murphy's not a man waiting around to be given another chance.

Peter O'Mahony - 8 

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It is hard to believe that, a year ago, O'Mahony wasn't guaranteed a starting place in the Irish backrow. He capitalised on a chance against England to go on and captain the Lions, and he has brought that form into 2018. One of Ireland's biggest leaders, and the decisive strike move at Twickenham began with his leap in the lineout.

Best moment - A mammoth turnover against Scotland as they began to exert pressure in the second half, for which he sustained an injury and had to leave the field.

Dan Leavy - 9 

Ireland's Grand Slam prospects were leavened with the introduction of Dan. A phenomenal championship by the Leinster player, which he ended by playing like a man possessed in Twickenham. Nobody earned as many critical turnovers for Ireland as Leavy.

Best moment - His all-round performance at Twickenham was quite something, but on his first start in the Six Nations, he made a textbook turnover at an Italian ruck that ended in a try for Keith Earls.

Josh Van Der Flier - N/A 

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Cruel that his championship ended so prematurely in Paris.

CJ Stander - 8.5 

Recovered from an indifferent start to grow into the championship as it progressed. In a fiercely competitive Irish backrow, Stander remains undroppable.

Best moment - The Twickenham try. Obviously.

Jack Conan - 7 

Conan was mightily impressive against Italy: his passing and soft hands give Ireland a dimension at no.8 that Stander rarely offers. Unfortunate, then, to see that performance curtailed by injury.

Best moment - His movement and pass for Conor Murray's try against Italy was exquisite.

See Also: Five Things That Need To Happen Between Now And 2019 World Cup

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

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