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Ireland's leaders stand up when it matters to help complete magical season

Sexton and Stander were both immense for Ireland in Sydney.

WHAT A TEST match. What a series. What a season.

Ireland ensured a memorable year finished in fitting fashion as they secured a first series victory in Australia for 39 years, after another thrilling and tension-laden clash in Sydney. 

Our match report from the Allianz Stadium is here, and below we take a look at the individual performances. 

Rob Kearney with Samu Kerevi and Dane Haylett-Petty Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Rob Kearney: 5

A difficult evening for the fullback as he struggled defensively and was caught out on a couple of occasions, most notably when Marika Koroibete latched onto a kick into space and ran straight through Kearney to score. Shipped a big knock in the first half, before being replaced by Jordan Larmour with 20 left.

Keith Earls: 8

A relatively quiet game for the Munster winger but was as bright as ever whenever the ball came his way, showing great hands with an offload after a Johnny Sexton cross-field kick which had shades of Paris about it, but his best work was again done without the ball.

Robbie Henshaw: 7

Conceded a penalty for a high-tackle on Israel Folau, which Bernard Foley crucially skewed wide, and overall missed a couple of tackles in midfield, but it another tireless shift from the Leinster centre. Made five meaty carries to get front-foot ball for Ireland.

Bundee Aki: 9

Recalled to the side due to Garry Ringrose’s foot injury, the Connacht man stepped up, and how. Silenced his critics after the first Test with a huge display throughout the 80 minutes.

Utterly immense in defence, proving to be a brick wall in green, while a couple of massive hits left Mark Robson on Sky Sports exalting ‘he loves hitting human beings and he’s very good at it.’ Arguably his best performance for Ireland.

Bundee Aki with his daughter Adrianna after the game Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Jacob Stockdale: 6

Was eager to make his mark on the Test match after sitting out last week but lead with a forearm on a carry early on and was sent to the bin, leading to further frustration for the young winger.

Didn’t get a whole lot of the ball and ran out of space more than once, although made an important late tackle on replacement scrum-half Joe Powell when Ireland were under the pump.

Johnny Sexton: 9

Balls of steel. Floored by a crunching Koroibete hit but after staying down and requiring treatment, showed unbelievable composure — once again — to land a clutch penalty with a couple of minutes remaining, made even sweeter by the booing Aussies in the background. A warrior, a big-game player.

Conor Murray: 8

Was caught offside after Stockdale hacked clear in the first half but, as we’ve come to expect from arguably the best scrum-half in the world, pulled the strings for Ireland. It’s a given, but he kicked smartly.

Jack McGrath: 7

Was very solid in defence throughout but the Irish scrum found itself under serious pressure at times, and you feel McGrath hasn’t done quite enough to force himself ahead of Cian Healy in the pecking order. Replaced by his Leinster team-mate after 56 minutes.

Niall Scannell: 7

A late call-up following Sean Cronin’s unfortunate withdrawal with a hamstring injury, and again showed the depth in the position with an excellent display, particularly in the loose. The lineout wasn’t as steady as it has been, but he produced when it mattered, finding Jordi Murphy in the build-up to CJ Stander’s try. Made way for Rob Herring before the hour mark.

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Tadhg Furlong is tacked by Izack Rodda Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Tadhg Furlong: 7

He was at it again at the breakdown with a couple of ferocious clear outs, one of which forced Michael Hooper off injured in the first half. Didn’t have it all his own way at scrum time but got through a mountain of work as usual. Relentless.

Devin Toner: 7

Didn’t scale the heights of last week’s performance in Melbourne but made a couple of important gathers from restarts. Knocking the ball on after a period of Ireland territory the one obvious blot on his copybook.

James Ryan: 8

An incredible season for the young second row ended with another Trojan effort, tackling like a man possessed — 13 in total — and was effective with the ball in hand. Was part of a brilliant counter-ruck on the right wing in the second half alongside Aki and Earls.

CJ Stander: 9

A ninth Ireland try capped a man-of-the-match performance, showing huge strength in the carry and his work on the other side of the ball was crucial in helping Ireland over the line. 15 carries and 12 tackles is a snapshot of his impact. Goes to the well time and time again.

CJ Stander with Dane Haylett-Petty Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Peter O’Mahony: 7

Suffered two heavy landings in aerial clashes with Folau, and while he bounced back to his feet to force a trademark early turnover, wasn’t able to carry on after the second incident on the half-hour mark.

Jack Conan: 8

A big chance for Conan on the big stage and he stood up with an impressive 70-minute shift at the back of the scrum. Ireland’s work-rate in defence was relentless, typified by the Leinster number eight’s energy and dynamism. He made 20 tackles in a stoic effort before coming off for Tadhg Beirne.

Replacements:

Big contributions again by Murphy and Jordan Larmour, as the former came off the bench to replace O’Mahony and ensured there was no let up in aggression at the breakdown. Played a big part in Stander’s try.

Larmour again saw plenty of game time in Sydney as he deputised for Kearney at fullback for the final 20 minutes, producing a brilliant high take against Folau. Was name checked by Schmidt in his post-match interview.

Herring, Healy, John Ryan and Beirne all helped see out the win, but Ross Byrne must wait for his debut after being one of two unused replacements alongside Kieran Marmion.

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