independent

Wednesday 16 April 2014

A campaign of some good, a lot of bad and the occasional ugly

Ireland's Six Nations awards

Ronan O'Gara – Nobody predicted such an abrupt axing from the squad

THIS is not a Six Nations anybody in Ireland will reflect on with any great fondness.

The inevitable inquiry will surely forensically examine why so many players suffered injuries and why they were consistently outplayed in the final quarter.

That France beat Ireland in the race to finish last is one of the few saving graces from the campaign.

Of course, the benefits that the likes of Luke Marshall, Paddy Jackson and Ian Madigan will glean from their experiences will stand to them and Ireland.

The inclusion of both Conor Murray and Brian O'Driscoll in the shortlist for Player of the Tournament must be acknowledged, but the recipient of that accolade will surely be Sergio Parisse.

So what gongs can Ireland legitimately claim from this Six Nations?

Best newcomer

Luke Marshall. It was a tough season in which to break through, given that things went so badly wrong for Ireland. But he rose above it and looked a class act. The future is bright for him.

Best entrance

Cian Healy before the France game. He was supposed to miss it because of the nonsense that was his suspension but, after an appeal, he was back in. He came out of the tunnel like he was running from a crime scene.

Best re-entry

Brian O'Driscoll's return to the field after being treated for concussion against France. He had to be helped from the field by two medical staff. The Aviva Stadium erupted when the PA announcer told us, "Brian O'Driscoll has returned to the field of play".

Best cameo

The four-minute spell against Italy when Ian Madigan (pictured, middle) stepped into the 10 channel and added much-needed pep. Ireland nearly scored a try and he looked very much at home in the arena.

Best act of improvisation

Simon Zebo with that spectacular heel-flick against Wales.

Big campaign worry

Ireland's failure in the final quarter of games. Was it mental or physical strength giving out?

Unlikely heroes

Team's medical staff. Surely nobody had a greater workload?

Big surprise

Paddy Jackson starting in Scotland. Nobody saw that coming either – not even at training that morning, when he wasn't given a chance to run the line.

Dramatic exit

Ronan O'Gara – Nobody predicted such an abrupt axing from the squad. The manner of it was brutal and wrong. He surely deserved more for all that he contributed to Irish rugby since making his debut in 2000.

Parachute award

Tom Court, surprisingly chosen over Dave Kilcoyne to start against Scotland in Cian Healy's absence. One of a number of astonishing decisions made during the championship.

Bad championship for

Player welfare group. How can they explain Ireland's players falling injured with such alarming regularity?

Campaign realisation

Ireland have the makings of a good team when everybody is fit. New faces have added to the mix and the future looks bright.

Unluckiest player

Luke Fitzgerald. Returned to international arena after career-threatening neck injury; now out with ruptured cruciate ligament.

Courage under fire

Donnacha Ryan. Battered, bruised and beaten up, but he played through the pain in all five games. Hugely courageous campaign from the second-row.

Irish pass

O'Driscoll's pass to Zebo for his try against Wales in the opening game. O'Driscoll took out three players with one gorgeous offload. Magnificent.

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