The big winners from Ireland's high-scoring summer tour

Ireland had some freedom to play in the US and Japan, but these men made the most of the chances.

EIGHT LONG MONTHS and 12 big Tests since we went to Chicago for the start of Ireland’s season, it came to an end with a fourth straight victory, a 13 – 35 win over Japan.

If you weren’t up at  the crack of dawn to watch, our match report from Tokyo is here and some post-match talking points here. Below we take the whole three-game tour into consideration to single out five or six men who did most this month to further their Test credentials for the November internationals.

Jack Conan

It was neck and neck through the opening two Tests, but the nature of this morning’s win over Japan put Jack Conan a whisker ahead in the running for Man of the Tour in our book.

Neither star man managed a score today, but in a frenetic scrap in Tokyo, Conan’s energy shone through again. Jamie Heaslip is confident of playing at the start of next season, but even fully fit he will have a battle on his hands at provincial and national level from Conan.

Jack Conan makes a break Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

The former St Gerard’s schoolboy will turn 25 next month and even if the US and Japan weren’t the most ferocious opponent he could have faced, the manner with which he swatted them aside should leave no doubt that he is ready.

Conan showed his ability to gallop in open field and score tries in the first two matches on tour, but this morning he continually showed up to carry over the gainline and turn slow ball from terrific Japanese defensive line-speed into opportunities for his side.

The overshadowed half-backs

Here’s a useless stat before we get to a useful one: 50% of Kieran Marmion’s starts for Ireland have come this month.

It’s four years since he went on tour to North America under interim boss Les Kiss and three since he made his Test debut, but the Connacht man now seems to have built up enough trust in the Joe Schmidt fund to be the clear alternative to Conor Murray.

Rikiya Matsuda and Kieran Marmion Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Competition was heated for nines on this tour, John Cooney was given a debut towards the tail end this morning while Schmidt has openly praised the kicking game of Luke McGrath, who started last weekend. But Marmion’s two starts have allowed him show off the ability to run a thrilling running game we all know from Connacht as well as exert more of the control and defensive spacial awareness that so impressed the head coach when he was introduced in Cardiff during the Six Nations.

Like Marmion, Paddy Jackson will find it tough to oust the first-choice man in his position, but both today’s half-backs now look to be the preferred bench options. Particularly after a win over the Eagles in New Jersey which Joey Carbery will hope everybody forgets as quickly as he wants to.

As we’ve long predicted, the shaky kicking moments of Jackson’s youth have been dispelled through this season. He landed all five conversions to bring his tally for this international season to 38 /39.  That’s 97.4% in case you were reaching for the calculator.

Keith Earls

This month has been a reminder, as if you needed it, of the thrills Keith Earls is capable of delivering.

The Limerick man scored nine tries in his 10 appearances for Ireland this season, a record haul that eclipsed Denis Hickie’s World Cup warm-up fuelled eight in 2003.

Kotaro Matshima and Keith Earls Earls' passing is an underrated element of his game. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

The 29-year-old was sensational in the first two Tests of the tour (and never dipped his work-rate today) touching down four tries of his own and creating many more with his acceleration through gaps and subtly brilliant hands.

His finest moment of the tour though, probably arrived right at the start though: a lightning midfield line-break before, with a tackle looming, he flung a majestic pass off his left hand to ensure Jacob Stockdale didn’t have to break stride as he latched onto a score he will never forget.

Garry Ringrose

We didn’t have much sympathy for Ringrose when he was left an unused replacement in Soldier Field. He had the best seat in the house after all, got to celebrate in the thick of it and it was abundantly clear that he would have many more international days to come.

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Garry Ringrose breaks free to score the first try of the game Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Fast forward to the end of the season and Ringrose has started all 11 Ireland fixtures since the All Blacks were beaten. He may have been denied a try on his debut, but his fourth Irish try this morning showed how his quick-thinking in tandem with his quick feet to poach a loose Japanese pass and take it to the house to deliver an early seven-point cushion.

Like most men on this list, he has rivals away with the Lions, but Schmidt just might feel safe enough with Ringrose now to keep Jared Payne’s renowned defensive nous out of the midfield.

James Ryan

When Brian O’Driscoll won his first Ireland cap before earning Leinster honours, provincial rugby – particularly in the east of the country – was in a very different place than it is now.

James Ryan Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

James Ryan has followed in O’Driscoll’s footsteps in that regard , but only because a nasty hamstring injury robbed him of a chance to taste the Pro12 and Champions Cup this season.

The 21-year-old powerhouse, who captained Ireland U20 to great effect, was introduced from the bench twice by Schmidt. In the US, he immediately latched on to score a try, but today’s effort was much closer to the fundamentals of his game as he was given heaps of carrying work to do, racking up 10 carries for 24 metres in his 30 minutes on the field.

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The loss of Donnacha Ryan will be felt at some point this November, but with Iain Henderson coming back from New Zealand and Ultan Dillane getting a sensible summer’s rest there is a lot of head-scratching ahead for Schmidt and Simon Easterby to figure out the best three locks they can fit in their squad. (The new) Ryan will certainly be part of the conversation.

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Sean Farrell

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