Ruddock was superb in the second Test. Billy Stickland/INPHO

Rhys Ruddock among those to leave Argentina with reputation enhanced

Jack McGrath, Simon Zebo, Iain Henderson and Robbie Diack also stood out.

THE OVERALL FEELING after Ireland’s two-Test tour of Argentina is that Joe Schmidt [and Les Kiss] will not have been totally happy with what they achieved.

A series victory is not to be sneered at but some of the individual errors in defence, an inability to turn many visits to the Pumas’ 22 into points, and the failure of several starter plays will rankle.

That said, the set-piece was superb while there was real value in allowing several of the less-heralded players to take on important roles. Here, we look at some of those who return to Ireland with their reputations enhanced.

We have deliberately ignored the more senior players for this piece, despite Jonny Sexton and Rory Best being excellent for large portions of both games. We have also limited ourselves to five players, so let us know who else impressed you in Argentina.  

Rhys Ruddock

Ruddock started the second Test in Tucumán and was quite possibly the best player on the pitch. All the elements of the 23-year-old’s best performances for Leinster this season were present again; the pre-contact footwork, power through the tackle, the fight in defensive collisions and competence at the line-out.

Rhys Ruddock Ruddock with a typically powerful fend. Billy Stickland / INPHO Billy Stickland / INPHO / INPHO

Having made his Ireland debut in 2010, Ruddock had to wait some time for his first start in green, but he clearly made up for that lengthy delay on Saturday. The rounded blindside flanker provides an intriguing back row option moving forward.

Jack McGrath

If Rudduck was the stand-out forward in the second Test, then McGrath could very well lay claim to the same status in the first. The Leinster loosehead was excellent in almost everything he did, scrummaging well, carrying powerfully, rucking efficiently and lifting expertly in the line-out.

Jack McGrath tackled McGrath's ball-carrying continues to improve. Billy Stickland / INPHO Billy Stickland / INPHO / INPHO

McGrath got another 23 minutes off the bench in Tucumán, although the mooted experiment of using him at tighthead didn’t see significant game time, as James Cronin appeared with only six minutes remaining. The real shame for McGrath is that he has a player of such high quality ahead of him in the loosehead pecking order.

Simon Zebo

The 24-year-old played all 160 minutes of the Test series and will be content with what he did in that time. A try in Tucumán was perhaps a highlight, but equally important to Schmidt will have been Zebo’s chasing of restarts, efforts to get into the air under kicks, ability to make metres with every possession and work-rate off the ball.

Simon Zebo runs in a try Zebo ran in a try in Test two after Eoin Reddan's inside pass. Dan Sheridan / INPHO Dan Sheridan / INPHO / INPHO

On the other side of the coin, a defensive error in the first Test stands out as a negative point. Some perceptions of the Munster wing paint him as an attacking magician, but here Zebo showed that he can be solid in the other important aspects of back three play.

Iain Henderson

Still just 22, Henderson showed once again that he is a superb athlete. His power was evident in almost every incident of contact in which he was involved, while his spring was highly apparent in the line-out.

Iain Henderson Henderson's running power offers a bonus when he plays in the second row. Billy Stickland / INPHO Billy Stickland / INPHO / INPHO

Having started and finished the first Test, the Ulster man got another 40 minutes off the bench in Test two. Henderson showed that his future now looks certain to lie in the second row, where his ball-carrying ability is an additional bonus.

Robbie Diack

The Ulster flanker was only involved in the first Test and does have one defensive slip to rue, but the impression Diack made was positive. At 28, the former Stormers back row is a relative latecomer to the international game, but his skillset offers Schmidt a further possibility in the composition of his squads.

Robbie Diack with Manuel Carizza and Rodrigo Baez Diack is an excellent line-out player. Dan Sheridan / INPHO Dan Sheridan / INPHO / INPHO

While Diack carried the ball willingly and aggressively in Resistencia, the area where he shades Ruddock is the line-out. Capable of calling the set-piece and with superb movement and jumping abilities, the Johannesburg native is a player Ireland may come to value.

This piece was originally published at 07.45 and then updated at 12.00.

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