IRELAND PUT THEIR best foot forward to demolish England‘s unbeaten run, denying them a Tier one world record and back-to-back Grand Slams. Here’s how we rated Joe Schmidt’s players.
Jared Payne: 7
It probably wasn’t part of the plan for the Ulster back to play a full 80. Looked a little sluggish as you might expect for a man who’s been out for a long stretch. Some shaky moments under high balls and delivered the odd poor kick from hand, but with the ball in hand he gives Ireland a helpful extra dimension and his second half break through a series of tackles brought the house to its feet.
Keith Earls: 6
A leading contender for Ireland’s player of the Championship. His acceleration is a breath of fresh air. Gleefully ate up yards when offered space. Unfortunately he did not emerge for the second half.
Garry Ringrose: 8
He looks completely comfortable at this level despite his inexperience. Carried extremely well with scything angles and footwork to keep the white defensive line occupied. Also showed flashes of his passing skill, particularly with a whipped ball to unleash Keith Earls down the right in the first half.
Robbie Henshaw: 8
A late finger-wag at Jerome Garces came after an angry roar of displeasure. Henshaw was pumped up to make an impression here and performed the midfield enforcer role with aplomb. His partnership with Ringrose is getting better and better with each man taking turns to crank up the line-speed and make shuddering hits behind the gainline.
Simon Zebo: 7
Attacking opportunities were few and far between in the second half, but Zebo was bright and constantly inventive in the first period.
Jonathan Sexton: 8
England’s rapid line-speed was suffocating at times and so it was difficult for the playmaker to really light the attack up. As ever, he had to deal with high shots and rough treatment, but keeps dusting himself down and rising with nerves of steel to nail vital kicks.
Kieran Marmion: 8
Never looked like a man in Conor Murray’s shadow or who is low on Test starts, the Connacht nine was composed and confident throughout and delivered clean and varied ball for his team to work off.
Jack McGrath: 7
We hesitate to use ‘lead from the front’ for a front row, but McGrath was a pain in the side for Dan Cole and every English forward and wasn’t afraid to get a tad bolshy when the tempers began to flare. Docked a point for a silly second half penalty that kept England in touch.
Rory Best: 8
Was required to take an early HIA, but thankfully returned to rectify a poor throwing performance last week. Carried and leeched relentlessly when Ireland looked to attack in the English 22.
Tadhg Furlong: 9
Ensured a rocky scrummaging base for England to work off all day, forcing Eddie Jones to hook Joe Marler at half-time. Mako Vunipola couldn’t make any inroads either and the Wexford man’s face was a picture of exhaustion as he departed to a deserved standing ovation.
Donnacha Ryan: 8
Oversaw a massively improved line-out and guided a powerful maul effort. Emptied the tank for 65 gruelling minutes before Schmidt sent big Dev Toner on to close the game out.
Iain Henderson: 8
Had that handy knack of sniffing out tries. Took his score very well in the first-half, stretching his body to the full to dot the ball down one-handed. Put his shoulder to the wheel to deliver 10 solid tackles in defence, a tally only bettered by Peter O’Mahony.
Peter O’Mahony: 9
The sound of referee Jerome Garces pleading: “six green, calm down” tells you all you need to know about how much the Munster captain craved this return to an international starter’s berth. He channeled that emotion into useful areas too, and made a big improvement to the balance of Ireland’s back row and the line-out – never more so than a line-out steal on his own 22 with just six minutes to go.
Sean O’Brien: 7
The flanker’s game has changed since the emergence of CJ Stander. His work-rate, and breakdown effectiveness and work-rate has not waned, but his line-break opportunities have and when he drops the pill, a little bit of confidence seems to leak from him. That’s nit-picking, because he has the ability to be Ireland’s best player.
CJ Stander: 8
A late switch to his favoured number eight shirt certainly didn’t dry up his thirst for work and he ran into the white wall 16 times. England made sure he was never afforded space to work with, but even square-on, he made tacklers rock backwards.
Andrew Conway: 5
Sent on for his international debut at half-time. Coped well under the high ball and tackled like a man possessed. Harshly pinged for a tackle on halfway.
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