Murray Kinsella reports from Allianz Stadium
EVEN AS THEY clung on in the series decider, Ireland managed to add to the depth of their squad and with the 2019 World Cup in mind, Joe Schmidt can be very pleased with how this tour has gone.
Jordan Larmour strutted off the bench with just over 20 minutes to go, replacing Rob Kearney after the starting fullback had managed to battle through a first-half shoulder injury to play three-quarters of Ireland’s 20-16 win.
The Leinster man, who has now played at outside centre, on the wing and at fullback for Ireland, looked utterly composed amid the high pressure of helping Ireland over the line in Sydney.
There was a clean take of a high ball and a couple of exciting runs in an impactful performance from the 21-year-old, who has underlined that he is more than capable at this level.
Tadhg Beirne got just over 10 minutes off the bench but he too added crucial energy, with one of his two carries coming at a particularly important time as Ireland flagged.
Two caps for the Munster-bound man in Australia were vital as Schmidt used this tour to develop his squad, while also keeping his eye firmly on the prize of a first series success Down Under since 1979.
Jack Conan got his opportunity at number eight in the thrilling decider and he can be pleased with how he delivered – a relentless performance that saw him leading Ireland’s tackle charts with 20.
Crucially, there was real accuracy and consistent focus in his display before making way for Beirne ahead of the endgame.
This seemed like the last chance for Conan under Schmidt and he ensured he will be firmly in the Ireland boss’ plans moving forward.
26-year-old Niall Scannell had one or two shaky moments at the lineout but brought an impressive physical edge again, as he got a second valuable start under his belt with Rory Best and the deeply unfortunate Sean Cronin missing.
“There was a couple of guys who got another opportunity today,” said Schmidt afterwards. “I thought Tadhg Beirne came off the bench really well.
“I thought Jack Conan did well, when you’ve got Sean O’Brien, Josh van der Flier and Rhys Ruddock – those guys are loose forwards back in Ireland – it’s presented a real opportunity for guys like Jack, especially with Dan Leavy being injured.
“I think it’s great when guys put their hand up because it puts pressure on guys and at the same time, they grow a little bit because they understand what it’s going to take. There’s no better match to go into where you have to understand how tough it was going to be.”
The only real shame of the night for Ireland was that Ross Byrne remained an unused replacement alongside Kieran Marmion, meaning the Leinster out-half will have to hope that the November Tests later this year will present the opportunity for a debut.
Marmion played only three minutes on this tour, while John Cooney got just two off the bench in the second Test.
Conor Murray is hard to take off the pitch because of his class and durability but Schmidt will probably reflect on a need to get the players behind him in the pecking order greater experience in the next year.
That is one of several challenges for Schmidt moving forward but overall this has been a hugely successful tour for the Ireland head coach.
A series success, a nice dollop of depth gained – a job well done.
“It’s up there, I think they are a super team,” said Schmidt of how this success compares to the rest of Ireland’s achievements this season.
“To be in their backyard and manage to sneak off with the Lansdowne Trophy is a little bit special for us, especially on the back of a pretty long season.
“It is a credit to players, they dug in just well enough. I’m pretty pleased there is not a game next week – that might have been a bridge too far.”
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