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Ireland player ratings from tough Twickenham defeat

BY Philip Bendon  ·  Sunday Mar 10, 2024

Ireland’s bid to become the first team to win back-to-back Six Nations Grand Slams as England edged a thriller courtesy of a last-minute Marcus Smith drop goal.

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In truth, England were the better team on the day, yet as time expired, Ireland held the lead as they took their points when they were on offer.

For Ireland it was another exceptional test match that they lost by the slimmest of margins and one that a coach with the intelligence of Andy Farrell will use as a lesson that will make them better going forward.

15. Hugo Keenan – 8
Mr consistent was once again one of Ireland’s top performers having shifted to the wing following Calvin Nash’s early exit due to a HIA. Covering both the wing and several of his fullback duties all at once proved once again that he might just be Ireland’s most influential player.

14. Calvin Nash – N/A
Exited inside the opening few minutes with a nasty HIA as he went down in the build-up to England’s opening try.

13. Robbie Henshaw – 6
Rock solid defensively but lacking the attacking direction that Garry Ringrose brings to the backline, looked very much like a classy 12 deputing at 13.

12. Bundee Aki – 7
Ireland’s bundle of energy made several big hits and notable carries, and he reminded everyone why he was so useful to the Irish attack with his ability to turn stationary balls to go forward.

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11. James Lowe – 8
Two exceptionally well-taken tries were matched by his educated left boot, which dug Ireland out of trouble on a handful of occasions. Alongside Keenan, he covered the backfield masterfully once again.

10. Jack Crowley – 8
Just how Crowley is coming in for any criticism shows a distinct lack of knowledge and understanding of what it takes to perform at the highest level in the ten shirt. Kicking four penalties in the opening half and playing a key role in both of Ireland’s tries, Crowley further cemented himself as Ireland’s commander-in-chief going forward. Defensively he never shirked his responsibilities and held his own against the powerful English ball carriers.

9. Jamison Gibson-Park – 8
So instrumental in Ireland’s ability to keep the tempo up, JGP’s shift to the wing when Ciaran Frawley exited coincided with Ireland’s lack of composure. Although he performed admirably on the wing, he is Ireland’s heartbeat around the ruck.

8. Caelen Doris – 6
Severely outshone by his English counterpart Ben Earls, yesterday’s fixture felt reminiscent of the World Cup quarterfinal loss to New Zealand. Whilst he had his moments, England doubled up on him in defence and limited his ball carrying effectiveness.

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7. Josh van der Flier – 7
The pick of the Irish backrow, the former World Player Of The Year had several key ruck interventions that got Ireland out of jail. His carrying game was good but like Doris he was matched by the physical English backrow and centres.

6. Peter O’Mahony – 3
His worst outing in a green shirt for a very long time, the Captain has been a figure of strength for Ireland over the past few years but couldn’t get to the pitch of the occasion. Calling for him to be removed from the starting line-up is premature but realistically how much longer he can hold off the likes of Ryan Baird, Cian Prendergast and even the young pairing of Ruadhan Quinn and Brian Gleeson remains to be seen.

5. Tadhg Beirne – 6
A handful of key moments highlighted by his quick thinking as England left the ball exposed at the ruck a meter from the Irish line were invaluable to keeping Ireland in the fight. Unfortunately, his spark in the carry was absent as he was dragged into a tight exchange affair and given no space to roam.

4. Joe McCarthy – 4
A learning experience for the undeniably brilliant youngster, unlike his previous three outings in this Championship he was met at the gainline by the likes of Maro Itoje and George Martin in particular. No doubt he will be better for the experience but he simply was not streetwise enough with a couple of key missed tackles and penalties conceded.

3. Tadhg Furlong – 7
Fortunate to still be on the park following Ellis Genge’s reckless charge into a ruck which was mysteriously missed by the match officials. In defeat this was his best performance of the tournament as he looks to get back to the lofty heights that made him the best tighthead in the world a few seasons ago. At scrum time his dominance was not rewarded as much as it could have been as the match officials wanted to keep play moving.

2. Dan Sheehan – 7
Not his best game with the line-out once again going awry, of course this is not exclusively on him but at least outwardly there seems to be a refusal by the camp to acknowledge that it is an issue. Around the park he had his moments and carried strongly whilst his breakdown work was exceptional.

1. Andrew Porter – 7
The narrative that Porter is a bad/illegal scrummager is clearly seeping into the minds of referees. Whatever the case may be, Porter is a powerhouse around the park and although he was not quite as influential as he normally is, he had his moments with some big hits and clear-outs.

16. Ronan Kelleher – 7
Added some much-needed stability to the Irish line-out with his pinpoint throwing albeit a long-range effort went astray. Clearly settled into the role as an impact sub, it would be interesting to see Kelleher get a few more cracks at a starting role for fixtures like this where his set piece work would come into its own and also free up Sheehan to enter the fray when there are tired bodies.

17. Cian Healy – 4
Always solid but has understandably at 36-years-old lost the dynamism that made him a key player for Ireland. This leads to Porter having to play too many minutes and more importantly doesn’t elevate the Irish game when he comes on.

18. Finlay Bealham – 6
Still second choice behind Furlong and was a key contributor at scrum time when he came on. His tussle with Oli Jager going forward will be interesting to follow especially when Ireland take on South Africa where the power game will be a major factor.

19. Iain Henderson – 7
A big game player, Henderson had some key contributions when he entered the fray, the challenge for the Ulster stalwart will be staying healthy and getting a run of games. If he can do this it will pose some tough questions for Farrell as to who to select between the four in-form locks.

20. Ryan Baird – 7
Surely he is getting close to becoming Ireland’s first choice openside with his rangy ability, line-out ability and power in the contact area. He always makes an impact when coming into the clash and will do the same as a starter when his time comes.

21. Jack Conan – 7
The Lion still brings impetus every time he comes on which clearly lifts his teammates, unfortunately it was not quite enough to close the action out on Saturday.

22. Conor Murray – 2
For this journalist who is a major Murray fan to write this is gut wrenching but the signs have been there for a while that his time in a green jersey are coming to an end. Without a shadow of a doubt, he will go down as the greatest nine Ireland have ever produced but he is no longer up to the pace of test match rugby. His passing was off target whilst his box kicking was far from what it has been in the past and this put Ireland under pressure., In truth he was never the same after his serious shoulder injury seven years ago. Now firmly cemented as second choice for Munster behind Craig Casey, it will be interesting to see who Farrell picks for the final round.

23. Ciaran Frawley – 6
Without a shadow of a doubt Frawley is a test match level player, however he is not a test level fullback. England exposed his lack of top-end pace for their tries in what was a cruel reminder that whilst he can do a job at the position, he is far more suited to flyhalf or inside centre. His versatility is useful, but really, he should be knocking down his provincial coach’s door for a consistent run at ten or consider a move to another province (Ulster, anybody?!).

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