Tuesday 11 December 2018

Ranked: The 41 players Joe Schmidt played in the November internationals

Schmidt will have been hugely pleased at the performance levels of his players throughout a tough month as he gets ready to offer them detailed feedback

Top 10: Ireland's James Ryan. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Top 10: Ireland's James Ryan. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Cian Tracey

Cian Tracey

The dust has settled on Ireland's most successful November Series to date and as the players filter back to their provinces, Joe Schmidt and his coaching staff will be busy poring over the reams of video footage from each of the four victories.

For the players, the focus will switch towards the crucial back-to-back European clashes, but over the coming weeks, they can expect some detailed feedback on their individual performances for Ireland.

Despite racking up four impressive wins, Schmidt's strive for perfection is such that he will not stand still from now until the Six Nations and later, the World Cup.

Now that the Ireland head coach has confirmed that he will leave after the World Cup in favour of taking a break from rugby, it is safe to assume that his work rate will be even more relentless for his final 11 months in the job.

Schmidt used 41 of the 42 players who he named in his initial squad, with Robbie Henshaw the unlucky man to miss out after he tweaked his hamstring during the warm-up ahead of the win over Argentina.

Henshaw will have been hugely frustrated, especially with Bundee Aki further enhancing his reputation on the international stage, but the Athlone native has plenty of credit in the bank.

Three players made their Ireland debuts as Ross Byrne, Will Addison and Sammy Arnold all lined out in green for the first time.

In coming off the bench against the USA last weekend, Arnold became the 37th player that Schmidt has capped since Ireland crashed out of the World Cup three years ago.

The aim is to have three high-class players in every position ahead of the squad's arrival in Japan, and Ireland look well on track in that regard.

As well as that, Conor Murray, Chris Farrell and Fergus McFadden missed the November Series through injury, which further highlights the strength in depth.

Schmidt also invited Adam Byrne and uncapped Connacht centre Tom Farrell into camp to train for the week of the All Blacks game, while several even younger players were in Carton House ahead of the USA game.

Overall, Schmidt will reflect on the month just gone as a job very well done as certain players re-established their best form and some hit new heights, although others will rue a missed opportunity.

So, how did the 41 players who featured last month fare?

1. James Ryan

An outstanding player with a very exciting future, Ryan enjoyed a phenomenal November Series. The 22-year old was a central figure in the two big wins against Argentina and New Zealand as he finished the month as not only one of the most influential locks in world rugby, but most influential players in general.

Against a typically physical Pumas pack, Ryan brought the fight to Argentina by making 18 carries and 13 tackles. We can get too caught up in stats at times but the Leinster man's continue to be off the charts.

Facing Brodie Retallick and Sam Whitelock, the All Blacks clash was billed as the chance to really determine where Ryan stood in world order and he responded emphatically. The former Ireland U-20s captain, who is a certain senior skipper in waiting, carried the ball 18 times and made another 20 tackles in another world-class performance.

And that's not to mention his play-making ability, which continues to set him apart from most other second-rows. A truly special talent.

2. Peter O'Mahony

The talismanic Munster captain banished some of his personal demons from the Lions tour with a totemic man-of-the-match display in the historic win over New Zealand.

O'Mahony is in the form of his career and the last month reiterated that. An absolute force of nature at the breakdown, the 29-year-old remains a formidable lineout operator, both on Ireland's ball and the opposition's. The form blindside flanker in the world.

3. Garry Ringrose

A classy operator in everything he does, with or without the ball, Ringrose started three of the four games - injury ruled him out of the win over Argentina - and in all three starts, he was one of the best players on the pitch.

The 23-year-old has grown into a real leader and cemented his place as Ireland's undisputed first-choice outside-centre as he continues to bring an extra dynamic to the attack.

4. Johnny Sexton

At his influential best, Sexton crowned his greatest season by being winning the world 'player of the year' award last weekend.

He didn't have his best game against Argentina as he perhaps had one eye on the following week, and he came out on top in his battle with Beauden Barrett. The heartbeat of this Ireland team, Sexton is crucial to Schmidt's game-plan.

5. Tadhg Furlong

He should definitely have been nominated for world Player of the Year - the best tighthead in the world was at his powerful best again.

A pivotal part of Ireland's rock-solid scrum, Furlong's little extras around the pitch continue to change what coaches demand of their tighthead props. An exceptional player who hasn't yet the peak of his powers.

6. Devin Toner

He was dropped for the Argentina game and the lineout faltered badly in his absence. Toner returned against the All Blacks and the difference he made to the set-piece was colossal. The towering Leinster lock remains an under-appreciated part of this team, but should begin the Six Nations in the engine room alongside James Ryan.

7. Cian Healy

Like Furlong, Healy is a key component of what is arguably the best scrum in the world. People wondered if the 31-year could return to the peak of his powers after a career-threatening injury, and he has proved the doubters wrong. A wrecking ball in full flow.

8. Rob Kearney

The veteran full-back relishes the competition for his place, and while Kearney only featured in the All Blacks win, his performance was enough to ensure that he is Ireland's first-choice for the foreseeable future. He rarely puts a foot wrong, and it is easy to see why Schmidt trusts the reliable 32-year-old.

9. Bundee Aki

He benefited hugely from an injury to Robbie Henshaw for the second time this year. Aki has slotted seamlessly into Ireland's systems and has repaid their faith in spades. It is no coincidence either that he is regularly used in Schmidt's power plays. A powerful midfielder, the Connacht man will have a big part to play next year.

10. Jacob Stockdale

The Ulster winger took his time to explode into life but it was worth the wait. Stockdale's sensational try against New Zealand will be remembered for years to come. The arch poacher, 12 tries in his first 14 internationals is a remarkable record for the 22-year-old.

11. Kieran Marmion

He had the unenviable task of stepping into Conor Murray's boots, and did so to good effect. Still a considerable gap to Ireland's first-choice scrum-half, but Marmion cemented his place as the back-up.

12. Tadhg Beirne

Will be gutted not to have been included in the match-day squads for either of the two big games but will know that he couldn't have done much more to force Schmidt's hand. Beirne had an excellent month otherwise and finished it by heaping the pressure on Iain Henderson.

13. Jordan Larmour

The 21-year-old's stunning hat-trick in Soldier Field set him up for an exciting month, with a knee injury denying him the chance to feature in all four games. He didn't have it all his own way against Argentina, but Larmour is a special talent who is rapidly improving.

14. Josh van der Flier

He started November as the third-choice openside but finished it as first-choice. Van der Flier is a model of consistency and never lets his team down.

15. CJ Stander

The No 8 was uncharacteristically quiet against Argentina (yet still made 20 carries) before he found his feet against the All Blacks. Stander's powerful ball-carrying regularly gets Ireland over the gain-line.

16. Rory Best

The skipper was under pressure after a poor performance against Argentina, but he went on to show that there is plenty of life in the old dog yet with a much-improved showing in the New Zealand victory.

17. Andrew Conway

The winger felt he allowed the game in Chicago to pass him by and while he only got a few minutes against Argentina, he produced a brilliant display in which he scored a hat-trick in the win over USA.

18. Will Addison

The versatile back showed exactly why Schmidt was so eager to fast-track him into the squad. Addison ended up playing at full-back, outside-centre and on the wing.

19. Ross Byrne

He enjoyed a fine debut off the bench at Soldier Field and then got more game time than expected against the USA. A slick operator, Byrne has a lot more to offer over the coming years.

20. Keith Earls

He didn't showcase his attacking prowess as much as he would have liked but Earls' all-round game is in great shape. He remains Ireland's first-choice right winger.

21. Joey Carbery

A quietly positive series, without ever really setting it alight. Carbery will have been frustrated to have been shifted to full-back last weekend but he showed what a threat he is with ball in hand in open space.

22. Rhys Ruddock

Barely put a foot wrong and skippered the team well in Chicago and last week, but Ruddock remains firmly behind O'Mahony in the pecking order. The consummate professional.

23. Dan Leavy

Injury restricted the flanker to just 43 minutes of rugby, yet he certainly made an impact. Would have started against the All Blacks but for a neck problem.

24. Iain Henderson

A difficult month for the Ulster powerhouse. He lost his place for the All Blacks encounter and then got sin-binned against USA. Will come back stronger.

25. Luke McGrath

The Leinster scrum-half enhanced his reputation with a couple of electric displays, but in Schmidt's eyes at least he didn't do enough to usurp Marmion just yet.

26. Andrew Porter

The tighthead continues to get better with each passing game. If Furlong wasn't around, Porter could well be a world star by now.

27. Jack McGrath

A solid month's work, but while he is an ultra-reliable operator, McGrath has some work to do to overtake Healy again.

28. Quinn Roux

The powerful Connacht lock came in for huge praise from Schmidt in Chicago; he is enjoying his best spell as an Ireland international.

29. Dave Kilcoyne

He knew it was going to take an injury to force his way into the two big games, but Kilcoyne did well off the bench against Italy and scrummaged well again last weekend.

30. Sean Cronin

His explosiveness off the bench changed the game in Chicago. Cronin is an excellent option to have, but the feeling is that if Best is injured, Schmidt will start Niall Scannell.

31. Jack Conan

He ended the month on a sour note by picking up a shoulder injury. Conan didn't quite do enough to dislodge Stander but remains an excellent back-up option.

32. Jordi Murphy

He hasn't hit his usual lofty heights with Ulster just yet, but his performances over the last month suggested that he is getting closer.

33. Niall Scannell

The hooker was taken off at half-time in the opening game, which was frustrating for him. Overall, Scannell may feel that he could have done more to stake his claim.

34. John Cooney

The Ulster scrum-half didn't do much wrong as he continues to find his feet on the international stage. Cooney is up against it, but he will get another chance to force his way into the World Cup squad.

35. John Ryan

The Munster tighthead fallen down the pecking order until he put in a huge shift off the bench against USA and scored his first Test try. Ryan looks close to a return to his best form.

36. Stuart McCloskey

He will be relieved to have been given another chance in the green jersey. He produced an assured display last weekend, scoring a try but McCloskey didn't really force Schmidt's hand.

37. Finlay Bealham

Recalled from the wilderness, Bealham's form with Connacht certainly earned him a recall. The 27-year old scrummaged well against USA, but could perhaps have got himself involved more around the park.

38. Rob Herring

Injury didn't help Herring's cause after he enjoyed a fine summer tour. Limited to one cameo appearance off the bench, the Ulster hooker looks to be fourth choice.

39. Sammy Arnold

He would have dreamed of making his international debut, but not on the left wing. Arnold had to plug a hole against USA and while he enjoyed a couple of good moments, the 22-year-old would have been much more at home in the centre, where he could have showcased his array of skills.

40. Sean O'Brien

Is there an unluckier player in Irish rugby? Making his first appearance for Ireland in a year, an innocuous challenge ended in O'Brien breaking his arm, leading to another period on the sidelines. The Tullow native still has plenty of credit in the bank with Schmidt, however, and will be given every chance to prove his fitness ahead of the Six Nations.

41. Darren Sweetnam

He came into November in flying form and like O'Brien was back in a green jersey for the first time in 12 months, until disaster struck. Sweetnam picked up a back injury in the early stages against USA and although he was unable to run it off, was replaced after just 26 minutes. A cruel blow for an exiting talent who deserved better.

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