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Sunday 29 January 2023 Dublin: 6°C
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Cubs to impact subs: It's The42's big November Tests awards bash
We’re dishing out the awards that matter after a long, hard month of rugby.

IT’S BEEN A long old month, much longer than the usual November series Ireland fling themselves into. We’ve had four tough Test matches against the best teams in the world (and Canada), we’ve taken the knocks, tasted the sweetest of victories (vicariously), witnessed history and chewed enough to ensure we won’t have fingernails again until 2017.

Now it’s time to take stock — plus a few painkillers and plenty of hydration — as we hand out some shiny metal trinkets to celebrate. So tighten up that dickie-bow and raise a glass as we slam this international window shut.

jackbeergif

Best foreshadowing narrative

Jaguars Lions Football AP / Press Association Images AP / Press Association Images / Press Association Images

It started as a bit of a joke, to be honest. When we landed in Chicago, the Cubs were 3 – 1 down to the Cleveland Indians. Slowly but surely, pitch by pitch, that all changed and the weight of their 108 years of not winning a world series gave them a momentum to come back and win in the most dramatic fashion in game seven extra innings.

Sure how could Ireland not end the 111-year wait for a win over the All Blacks after that?

Best debut

Joey Carbery celebrates winning Dan Sheridan / INPHO Dan Sheridan / INPHO / INPHO

Joe Schmidt likely named Joey Carbery in his November squad thinking it would just be an opportunity to expose him to the environment. Maybe build his consistency and familiarity by blending him with the seniors for a while, but leave him back to play for Leinster in good time for any Pro12 matches.

A series of unexpected events thrust the just-turned-21-year-old in against the All Blacks just as they were beginning a roaring comeback with a quarter still to play in Chicago. Yet the Auckland-born Athy man didn’t look an inch out of his depth. He passed calmly, kicked assuredly from hand and his first Test points (for now, his only Test points) made that final scoreline 40 – 29 in Soldier Field.

Most intense anthem face

Donnacha Ryan was Ready. For. War in the second clash with the ABs.

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It must have been an extremely frustrating month for…

25th man in Chicago, 25th man in the second clash with New Zealand, dropped for the Australia clash and a little stranded without work for long stretches of the Canada match. Craig Gilroy can’t have enjoyed his month in the Ireland camp very much.

Craig Gilroy, Rob Kearney and Devin Toner Dan Sheridan / INPHO 'Yeah, no need to take that tracksuit off Craig'. Dan Sheridan / INPHO / INPHO

Then to cap it all, he went back to Ulster this week hoping to finally stretch his legs once called off the bench against Zebre…  only for the bloody pitch to freeze and force the match to be called off.

Best Irish hit

This man-and-ball tackle from Simon Zebo on Michael Hooper with Ireland four points down after an hour against the Wallabies was a bona fide gamechanger.

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And sure while we’re on the subject of wingers demolishing flankers:

Liam-Squire-Trimble

That’s 113 kilos of Highlanders blindside flanker Liam Squire that Andrew Trimble emptied onto the Soldier Field turf.

Best (legal) hit on an Irish player

Squire dusted himself off and returned a fortnight later to team up with Owen Franks for this smackdown of Jared Payne.

jaredslam

Scene stealer

Somehow, a young man from Wicklow managed to play a major role (and more than 50 minutes) in all three Tests against the two World Cup finalists this month despite having not been named in a single starting line-up.

General View of the big screen with the final score and man of the match Josh Van der Flier Colm O'Neill / INPHO Colm O'Neill / INPHO / INPHO

Josh van der Flier replaced the injured Jordi Murphy after 25 minutes in Chicago and was called in for the concussed CJ Stander after 22 minutes of the return fixture. Then he played 80 in the win over the Wallabies once Sean O’Brien pulled out and on each occasion he pushed himself towards the top of the tackle charts, carried ferociously and  played a big role in Ireland’s successes around the ruck.

Try of the Series

Okay, so it was Canada, but the combination of a beautiful offload from Finlay Bealham and scything line from Tiernan O’Halloran made this game-breaking run from the Galway man a winner in our book.

RugbyCanada Communications / YouTube

Watch from 3.04 in the clip above.

The Tadhg Furlong award for PURE WEXFORD BEEEEEEEF!

Sit down, Brodie Retallick!

Sit down, Kieran Read!

Furlong

Best newcomer

From his debut in his favourite position to being asked to work as an inside centre for the first time since Leinster U20s against both World Cup finalists, 21-year-old Garry Ringrose did more than merely putting very few feet wrong, he thrived on this stage.

Garry Ringrose scores his sides second try Dan Sheridan / INPHO Dan Sheridan / INPHO / INPHO

His physical attributes will never be a concern again as Ringrose has continuted to prove he has ample technique in defence and intent in attack to make sure he punches well above his weight (which will increase in time too).

Best pressure penalty

Skills coach Richie Murphy would later reveal that Conor Murray had actually taken a week out of kicking practice as he was nursing an injury in the lead-up to the win over the All Blacks.

Before Carbery was called in to replace the injured Jonathan Sexton, Ireland had a kickable penalty 40 metres out. Murray showed the full circumference of his schtones at that very moment, picking up the ball and driving it high between the Soldier Field sticks.

Conor Murray kicks a penalty Dan Sheridan / INPHO Dan Sheridan / INPHO / INPHO

Man of the Series

At the beginning of the month we said one win (as  long as it was against a team in black) would constitute a successful series. So, as Ireland come away with three from four, there are quite a few stand-out players who deserve recognition for their autumnal efforts.

Sean O’Brien was freakish on his first 80 in 10 months against the world champs, Jamie Heaslip looked to be playing his very best rugby, CJ Stander carried his adopted nation across the gainline over and over again, Robbie Henshaw put in perhaps the best ever performance by an Irish 12 in Chicago and Devin Toner was an utterly totemic figure as he played 80 excellent minutes in the three big Tests.

However, in a month where history was made, we can’t overlook the man at the front of everything.

On the eve of battle in Soldier Field, Rory Best lay a challenge down for his own team: the mental task of sticking with the best team in the world, no matter what.

“It’s just a question of whether mentally we can stay in the game. Physically we are more than able to do it. It’s just mentally: can you be the one — when you need to switch in or change, or you need to have that bit of ball focus to not give them the ball back easily — can you do it under the intense pressure of the All Blacks coming off the line at you be it the 39th minute or the 79th minute?”

Rory Best leaves the pitch on his 100th appearance for Ireland Colm O'Neill / INPHO Colm O'Neill / INPHO / INPHO

That sentiment of demanding nothing but excellence set the tone for Ireland as they ended 111-years of waiting for a win over the All Blacks.

He’s much more than just a motivator – indeed, that may well be one of the weaker points of a softly spoken man. Best leads by example and his clinical execution at the ruck and line-out laid the foundations for so much success.

He’s done what no other Irish captain in history has managed and despite being 34, his tenure looks to have plenty of road left to run.

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‘You can’t wallow in self pity and panic’: Best’s Ireland show steel to steady ship

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