Beirne's big outing in Chicago leaves Ireland spoiled in second row

Joe Schmidt has very strong options in the locking department

FIVE INTO TWO. The dilemma for Joe Schmidt in the second row over the next three weekends.

James Ryan, Iain Henderson, Devin Toner, Tadhg Beirne and Quinn Roux – seriously strong options for the Ireland head coach.

Beirne’s brilliance in Chicago last weekend, when he scored two tries against Italy, makes it an even tougher decision.

Tadhg Beirne score his side's first try Beirne stretches out for his first try against Italy. Dan Sheridan / INPHO Dan Sheridan / INPHO / INPHO

There was much more to Beirne’s game than the scores at Soldier Field, including an important lineout steal, some sharp tackling and his superb ball-carrying off nine. 

While there weren’t any of his trademark turnovers, it was a continuation of the form he has shown for Munster in the Heineken Champions Cup so far this season, as well as the performances that were commonplace in his time at Scarlets before his move back to Ireland.

The 26-year-old remains the least experienced of Schmidt’s second row options at Test level, but he is among the most exciting.

That said, the proven quality of Toner, Henderson and Ryan on big occasions for Ireland is certainly attractive ahead of the Argentina and All Blacks Tests.

Connacht man Roux delivered an excellent performance against Italy too and deserves to be included in the debate.

Beirne’s dynamism and ability to also cover the blindside flank means he has the potential to act as an impact replacement for Ireland.

Whatever role he is to play in the coming weeks, Beirne can reflect on his first start for Ireland last weekend with some pride.

“I was a little bit nervous going out there,” said Beirne. “But we started well and to get over for the first try was nice on my behalf.

Tadhg Beirne Beirne carried superbly for Ireland. Dan Sheridan / INPHO Dan Sheridan / INPHO / INPHO

“It’s one of those where Jacob [Stockdale] set the tone by making that linebreak and we fed off that. Unfortunately, for the rest of the half, we didn’t really kick on as we would have liked to.

“We weren’t as accurate as we would have wanted and the pace of the game wasn’t where we wanted it to be.”

Despite those frustrations, Beirne was pleased with Ireland’s lineout work, although he feels their mauling can improve for the Pumas Test.

“I thought the lineout went reasonably well,” said Beirne. “I don’t think we lost one. We might have been a bit better in our drives and we’ll definitely look at that.

“Defensively I think we nicked one and put them off a few so we’re pretty happy with the lineout overall, but definitely in terms of our mauling, we have a few areas where we can get better.”

While Beirne and the forward pack did an excellent job in Chicago, the star of the show was undoubtedly Jordan Larmour – another man who was making his first start for Ireland.

The Leinster man scored three tries from fullback and the wing, and Beirne was as impressed as everyone else.

“We were saying that if the Chicago Bears lad is looking at him, he might be poaching him!” said Beirne.

Jordan Larmour scores his third and Ireland's eight try of the day Larmour was the star of the show in Chicago. Dan Sheridan / INPHO Dan Sheridan / INPHO / INPHO

“Jordan is a bit of a freak when it comes to his speed and his agility and everything he brings, and that last try just showed it. He just picks them off like it’s nothing and he’s a credit.

“He’s just a natural talent, isn’t he? He’s a gifted player, that’s what you’d call him, and he’s still not the finished article because he’s 21 and he’ll keep learning. So imagine how good he’ll be by the time he’s 27, 28.”

With Larmour now strongly in contention to wear Ireland’s 15 shirt for the clash with Argentina on Saturday, as Rob Kearney remains a doubt, Schmidt will be hoping the 21-year-old can perform similar feats in Dublin.

As for the second row, the Ireland boss can take comfort in the fact that whatever way his selection goes in the coming weekends, he will have quality operators in the locking positions.

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