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How the Irish Lions rated on their series-winning tour to Australia

We assess which Irish players had the most impact on the Lions’ first series win since 1997.

Sean O'Brien and Jonny Sexton celebrate after the Third Test victory.
Sean O'Brien and Jonny Sexton celebrate after the Third Test victory.
Image: ©INPHO/Dan Sheridan

LISTED BELOW ARE the names of 12 Irishmen that can be very proud of their achievements in Australia.

Some featured more than others in the victorious Test Series, a couple performed well as late call-ups. Some flew home early while others stuck around to cheer the team on or made miraculous comebacks.

Starting with Racing Metro-bound outhalf Jonny Sexton, here are the players that had the greatest influence on the Lions’ tour and their first series win in 16 years.

Jonny Sexton – 7.5

The outhalf was Warren Gatland’s number one from the outset and shone in the early tour matches. Got one bite at the goalkicking cherry in Hong Kong but ceded the duties to Leigh Halfpenny thereafter. Stepped up and made some big plays as the Lions edged towards First Test victory but was forced to curtail his natural game and kicked away a lot of possession [he kicked 57% of the ball he received in the first two Tests]. Defensive lapses were quickly forgotten in the Third Test as he bravely chipped up the line for George North before sealing the series with a great try.

Jamie Heaslip – 7

Toby Faletau had a great game at No.8 in the Third Test decider but that should not take away from Heaslip’s contribution to the series win. In the early tour matches, Heaslip showed the rampaging form that he ended his Leinster season with. While Faletau was solid, the Irishman was dynamic. Had a great First Test, providing crucial steals and tackles inside the Lions’ 22. Controlled operations well at the back of the scrum until late in the game when it creaked. Got stuck in the mud of a defensive mindset in Melbourne and Gatland swung the axe for Sydney to bring in the fresher Faletau.

Sean O’Brien – 7

The Tullow Tank will still tell you, if you ask, that he prefers to play blindside but he was magnificent at openside, in place of the injured Sam Warburton, in the decider. Suffered due to his back row versatility as he was shifted from 6 to 7 in the warm-ups. The flanker everyone was calling for to start the first, then second, Test came into the defensive line in Melbourne and could do little but throw his body into the fray as the Lions failed to hold out. Showed his worth from the first minute and made 11 tackles in the first half alone. Gatland asked him for a big hour and that’s exactly what he got.

Brian O’Driscoll – 6.5

Looked superb in the warm-up matches as he raced over for tries, linked up well with Manu Tuilagi and chased down ever cause, lost or not. Never truly clicked with Jonathan Davies, a 13 shifted to inside centre, but the duo did well in the First Test. Communications broke down in Melbourne and O’Driscoll was the fall guy. May have dropped his head in private but never in public, and his effort never dropped in training. As he declared after the Lions won in Sydney, he is now a Lions series winner and no-one will take that away from him.

O’Connell and O’Driscoll lift the Tom Richards Cup. (©INPHO/Billy Stickland)

Paul O’Connell – 6.5

Was in the form of his life in the warm-up games as his engine looked in great nick and he tackled like a demon. His handling was second to none and he often took the breath away with sleight of hand passes and offloads. The lineout never looked in danger with O’Connell on the scene, in the big matches, and calling the shots. Massive effort in the First Test, which included seeing out the victory with a fractured arm. Stayed on with the team and was vocal in training sessions in the final two weeks. Another who can tick the series winner box with relief.

Conor Murray – 6

Started the tour on fire and was in with a shot for a Test start before Gatland put his chips behind Mike Phillips and almost regretted it. A replacement for the final two Tests, looking assured in the Second Test and sending Jamie Roberts through in Sydney for the exclamation point score. His evolution as a player over the past seven weeks is clear to see and it will only benefit Munster and Ireland in the future.

Tommy Bowe – 6

Not many, if any, players break a bone in the hand and get a snap call of six-weeks out only to come back and play a big part in a series win. Bowe’s all-round footballing ability saw him frog-leap Alex Cuthbert into the Test side. Looked rusty in the first half of the Second Test but improved when Conor Murray came on and put up contestable box kicks. Big influence in the deciding Test as he cleaned up a lot of aerial balls and made the line break to set up the move for Sexton’s try.

Bowe gulps champagne from the Tom Richards trophy. (©INPHO/Billy Stickland)

Simon Zebo – 5.5

As a late call up for Bowe, drafted in as backline cover, Zebo arrived from the United States in a joyous frenzy. He took his brimming energy and undoubted skill onto the pitch and almost scored after 40 seconds against the Waratahs. Did everything he had to in the warm-up games to warrant a place on the bench for one of the first two Test matches but, one year on from his Test debut, will be pleased with his contribution.

Rob Kearney – 5

Set off to Hong Kong with a torn hamstring that would only be discovered upon arrival. Kearney, as he showed at the end of the season for Leinster, improves with game time but he was never going to shift Player of the Test Series Leigh Halfpenny. His fullback outings were solid, with flashes of attacking spark, but the high flying aerial claims were few and far between.

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Cian Healy – 4

Made his Lions debut off the bench against the BaaBaa’s and started against the Western Force. His second game in red proved to be his last, for now, as he shrugged off biting allegations only to get stretchered off after turning his ankle. Was a nailed-on Test starter but the Lions were lucky to have Alex Corbisiero fly in from Argentina to save the day in the First and Third Tests.

Tom Court showed up to take on the Melbourne Rebels. He is a Lion for life. (©INPHO/Billy Stickland)

Tom Court – 3

Corbisero’s mashing of the steady Ben Alexander was similar to the job he did on Mike Ross and Court on St Patrick’s Day 2012 for England. Court’s international career hung in the balance after that bleak day but he buckled down at Ulster, had a fine season and appeared for Ireland on their summer tour. He headed home to see his family in Brisbane and got a Lions call-up when Corbisiero tweaked his calf. Played 15 minutes against the Melbourne Rebels and managed to give away two penalties but he, David May style, is also a series winner. Enjoy your delayed summer holidays Tom.

Rory Best – 3

The first call-up to the Lions squad, after Dylan Hartley’s verbal diarrhoea, but struggled with his lineout throwing all tour and, as a consequence, his game suffered. Got to captain the Lions against the Brumbies but the game got away from him as Jake White’s side went for the line often and targeted the hooker’s throws. Will face a battle from Richardt Strauss for the Irish No.2 jersey in the Autumn.

What Irish player do you think had the biggest influence on the tour?

“I’ll always have Lions series winner on my CV, that’s what counts” – O’Driscoll

How the Lions rated in their 3rd Test victory over Australia

About the author:

Patrick McCarry

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