Monday 25 September 2017

First impressions count in Schmidt's stocktake

Ireland players, from right, Devin Toner, Kevin McLaughlin, Fergus McFadden, Richardt Strauss, Isaac Boss and Ian Madigan before the Canada game
Ireland players, from right, Devin Toner, Kevin McLaughlin, Fergus McFadden, Richardt Strauss, Isaac Boss and Ian Madigan before the Canada game
Peter O'Mahony
Ruaidhri O'Connor

Ruaidhri O'Connor

SUCCESS and failure are hard currency in North America and when Ireland's players went on their holidays after their two-match tour to the United States and Canada they had much to reflect on.

You only get one chance to make a first impression and, in front of new coach Joe Schmidt, this was a chance for a small number of regulars, a string of up-and-comers and a large group of fringe players to show the New Zealander what they can do.

Some enhanced their reputations and gave themselves a real shot at being in the mix for the visits of Samoa, Australia and New Zealand in November. Others maintained an already strong reputation and left in the same spot they were in. And for a small few it was a fortnight to forget and one that leaves them with much to do in the autumn to make up for a lost chance to impress.

Schmidt begins the job officially on July 1 and he has been given plenty to assess as he does a stocktake ahead of the new season when he will have his Lions and injured players back.

ON THE RISE

1 PETER O'MAHONY

Rory Best's Lions call up gave the Munster man (below) an opportunity and he grasped it impressively with big performances in both Tests.

Operating at No 8, he took up the slack in the ball-carrying department and led from the front when the game was in the balance against the USA.

Add to that to his growth off the pitch in his handling of the media (despite his name being constantly butchered by locals), and he looked every inch an Ireland captain. He should get the job for his province first, where fans would have appreciated his no-nonsense approach to the Canadians.

2 IAN MADIGAN

His comments before the first Test about reputations being at stake heaped pressure on himself, coach Les Kiss and O'Mahony but Madigan showed the confidence and class to back them up. The Leinster man demonstrated he was more than comfortable to stand up and take responsibility.

He was targeted repeatedly by big Canadians on Saturday but kept bouncing back up and his kicks in the build-up to both tries were sublime.

He has leapfrogged Paddy Jackson in the pecking order, and while he may have to wait to supplant Jonny Sexton, the run as first-choice at Leinster will do him the world of good. A class act.

3 DEVIN TONER

The Meathman won his first cap as far back as 2010 but only four more followed until this tour.

He spoke about wanting to be a leader and stepped up to the plate, claiming two key balls with the game in the balance against the USA, before taking responsibility for a wayward line-out against Canada.

Kiss paid high praise to the tallest man in world rugby after that display, and Schmidt, who quietly promoted him to starting lock at Leinster at the end of the season, would have taken note.

4 FERGUS MCFADDEN

Ireland's most experienced back against the US delivered a committed display and could have scored a crucial try if he had backed himself.

However, had Robbie Henshaw held his pass he'd have been creator-in-chief and he made up for it a week later with a hat-trick of tries, none of which was a canter in. One of Ireland's most consistent backs, he'll be happy with his work.

LONG-TERM INVESTMENTS

1 STUART OLDING

Part one of replacing the Gordon D'Arcy-Brian O'Driscoll axis may have been solved in Houston, where Olding gave a superb display at 12.

Injury and illness played their part in him missing the Canada game, but the 20-year-old did more than enough to show that he is the real deal, with a crucial poach on Taku Ngwenya in the closing stages his coup de grace.

Paddy Wallace and Luke Marshall will come back from injuries to a changed landscape after this young man took full advantage of their absence.

2 TOMMY O'DONNELL

Not quite as omnipotent as his Munster team-mate O'Mahony but O'Donnell seized his chance in Toronto with a try-scoring display. The 26-year-old is making up for lost time and can kick on next season after a stronger tour than rival Chris Henry.

3 ROBBIE HENSHAW

Still the next big thing, but not just yet. Henshaw showed signs that he is a natural Test player in Houston and got a run off the bench at outside centre in Toronto.

But there were a couple of errors in the first Test that showed he has a little bit to go, and while there are few doubts over his class, he is not quite ready to supplant Rob Kearney or O'Driscoll yet.

However, that he is being talked about in such company shows how far he has come since sitting his Leaving Cert 12 months ago.

HOLDING STEADY

1 MIKE ROSS

Disappointed not to make the Lions but the tour's elder statesman held his part of the bargain, destroying the US scrum and making more than parity against the Canadians. Deserves his summer's rest.

2 DAVE KILCOYNE

Not quite at Cian Healy's level yet but can be satisfied with a strong outing in his first start despite the sweltering heat of Houston. Tom Court's struggles just emphasised his place in the set-up.

SHORT SELL

1 PADDY JACKSON

That a lip-synced video filmed with Simon Zebo will be the main thing he is remembered for is an indictment of the contribution of a young man who arrived as incumbent out-half and saw just 20 minutes of action.

Did okay when introduced for Madigan, but it is the Leinster man who will spend his summer satisfied with the events of the last fortnight.

2 MIKE MCCARTHY

Leinster's new signing needs to hit the ground running after an anonymous display in Houston, and more so in the light of Dan Tuohy's performance in Toronto.

The second-row burst on to the international scene with his performances last November, but has failed to hit the heights since.

3 CHRIS HENRY

Perhaps the humidity didn't agree with him, but Ireland's rucking was poor in Texas and O'Donnell came in and changed that a week on after injury had disrupted his preparations.

Despite being earmarked as a leader on tour, Henry could be destined, like Shane Jennings, to be considered a class club openside whose attributes don't translate to the international game.

4 DARREN CAVE

Despite his try in Toronto, the Ulsterman did little to prove he has what it takes to step into the No 13 jersey when O'Driscoll steps aside.

The centre defended resolutely, but couldn't provide the spark in attack and ran into too many blind alleys. Will be frustrated.

5 KIERAN MARMION

The only player not to play on tour, Marmion has plenty of time on his side to get his first cap.

Irish Independent

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