Thursday 20 June 2019

Inside the Lions: Ruaidhri O'Connor rates the players with three Irish leading the way

Sean O'Brien of the British & Irish Lions goes over to score
Sean O'Brien of the British & Irish Lions goes over to score
Sean O’Brien reminded everyone of his world class ability. Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images
Ruaidhri O'Connor

Ruaidhri O'Connor

As the Lions leave New Zealand having drawn a memorable series with the All Blacks, Ruaidhri O’Connor rates their individual performances

Roaring successes

8 Tadhg Furlong

Duel with Joe Moody was one of the key battles and he leaves New Zealand with his reputation enhanced; a three-time Test starter who more than held his own.

9 Sean O’Brien

Having hit such a high level of fitness and form, it is so disappointing that he finished with a shoulder injury. A reminder of his world-class ability.

8 Maro Itoje

Went toe-to-toe with the world’s two best locks and is only set to get better in the coming years. Youngest man on tour, he has a huge future.

8 Sam Warburton

Came on to the tour injured and struggled for form, but when he got his chance in Tests two and three he delivered two physical, controlled performances. A fine captain.

8 Taulupe Faletau

One of the Lions’ most consistent performers, he helped rescue them from disaster in the opener and was a solid, if at times unspectacular, performer in the Test series.

9 Conor Murray

A cracking performance from a player of world class stature. Even when he made mistakes in Wellington, he was left on for the 80 and scored a try. Consistently excellent throughout.

Conor Murray, left, and CJ Stander of the British & Irish Lions following the Third Test

9 Johnny Sexton

Reminded everyone he remains the world class out-half in the Northern Hemisphere, recovering his form by playing three times in a week and forcing his way into the Test team through his own excellence and bravery.

9 Jon Davies

The players’ player of the series and it’s hard to disagree with their sentiment. Showed up in each Test with big plays and confirmed his reputation as a big-game player.

8 Jamie George

Was always in line to start the Tests and, once there, he was a big contributor; particularly in that crucial second Test win. Last few lineouts slightly spoiled his record.

8 Anthony Watson

Got stronger as the Test series progressed and finished with his reputation enhanced. His foot-work in attack caused the All Blacks problems.

Test match animals

7 Mako Vunipola

Lost his head a little in Test two, but was prominent with ball in hand in the decider and was a tyro throughout the tour. Carries hard and has plenty of skill.

7 Alun-Wyn Jones

Started all three Test matches, poor in the first but recovered his form in games two and three; bringing real physical menace and mental strength to proceedings.

6 Owen Farrell

You almost have to separate his ice-cool goal-kicking and his inconsistency around the park. Poor defensively, he failed to live up to his reputation around the pitch.

7 Liam Williams

His role in the first try in the opening Test will live in the memory, while his try-saving tackle on Jordie Barrett was key but there were poor moments under the high ball that took the sheen off.

7 Elliot Daly

Has a cannon of a boot and caused problems on the front-foot. Started all three Tests and rarely let the Lions down.

Fallen first Testers

5 George Kruis

Must be wondering what happened. Up until the first Test he was a leading light, but failed to turn up at Eden Park and a bungee jump was the highlight of the remainder of his tour.

5 Peter O’Mahony

Honour turned to humiliation for the Corkman who earned the captaincy with his strong performances in the build-up, but was cast aside after a middling display in the opening Test.

Peter O’Mahony is substituted during the Lions defeat to New Zealand last weekend. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

6 Ben Te’o

His performances in the build-up promised much, but he is too limited in attack at the highest level and although he didn’t play badly in the first Test he was on the bench in games two and three.


6 Ken Owens

So nearly the accidental villain until handed a dubious reprieve by Romain Poite. Firmly second-choice to George, he didn’t come on in Test two and was one of the least used players.

7 Jack McGrath

Played an important role in all three Tests and might have gotten the nod to start the decider. Vunipola was firmly first-choice, but McGrath played his part.

7 Kyle Sinckler

Needs to tone down his over the top antics and improve his scrummaging technique, but showed moments of real quality every time he played.

7 Courtney Lawes

Head injuries threatened to stall his tour, but he battled his way on to the Test bench and played a big part in the win in Wellington.

7 CJ Stander

Played plenty of rugby and unlucky to have had to wait until Test three for his introduction. He didn’t look out of place and his energy was apparent throughout the tour.

6 Rhys Webb

Catches the eye, but lacks the control of Murray, and even when he was playing well he was playing for himself. Still, his piece of opportunism eked out the series levelling penalty.

Determined dirt-trackers

6 Rory Best

Never played badly, but got pigeon-holed as mid-week captain and never threatened the Test side.

5 Dan Cole

Squeezed out of Test selection by more dynamic youngsters and ended up as a midweek regular.

5 Joe Marler

His silly yellow card was costly against the Highlanders and he was a non-runner when it came to Test selection.

7 Iain Henderson

The man Warren Gatland said was the unluckiest player to miss out on Test action, he started poorly against the Barbarians but recovered to put in some stirring displays.

5 James Haskell

Limited player whose enthusiasm behind the scenes made up for his lack of ability on the pitch. Firmly in mid-week mode.

6 Dan Biggar

Knew from the start he was the No 3 out-half and an early concussion halted his march further. Played well in the mid-week side when recovered.

6 Robbie Henshaw

Memories of this tour won’t be fond. Found himself on the mid-week cycle and although he played well he couldn’t force the coaches’ hand before injury ended his run.

Robbie Henshaw. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

Fallen 2013 heroes

4 George North

Another star of 2013 whose glory has faded. A hamstring injury ended his tour, but his Test chances had already shot.

4 Leigh Halfpenny

Gatland chose the attacking strength of Liam Williams over the 2013 Player of the Series who disappeared from view.


4 Justin Tipuric

He’s a fine player, but it’s hard to remember a single moment when he had an impact on this tour. Lightly raced for some reason and never in Test contention.

3 Greig Laidlaw

His slow delivery must have frustrated everyone around him. Danny Care or Gareth Davies would have brought more out of those around them.

4 Jonathan Joseph

Defensive limitations were shown up in the Highlanders game and a wrist injury limited his involvement.

4 Jared Payne

Came off an injury-plagued year and never hit his own high standards and finished with a worrying migraine issue.

5 Jack Nowell

Recovered his form but it came too late. Got on in the final Test, but Gatland desperately wanted him to force his way in and he couldn’t.

3 Tommy Seymour

Scored a couple of tries, but guilty of some howling errors and never looked to have the class of those around him.

Wounded Lions

4 Stuart Hogg

A tragi-comic figure whose tour was ended by a collision by Conor Murray’s elbow.

4 Ross Moriarty

Hurt his back in a strong performance against the Barbarians and never recovered.

The Geography Six

Hung out to dry by Gatland, the six late call-ups were treated dreadfully. The sight of Tomas Francis stepping onto the pitch before being dragged back will linger. Poorly handled.

The coach

8 Warren Gatland

Endured a turbulent six weeks and came out smelling of roses. A series draw is a remarkable achievement but as he takes credit he’ll have to accept responsibility for some failings like the Geography Six fiasco and his selection errors for the first Test when Johnny Sexton should have started. Still, to bounce back and beat the world champions before fighting for a draw deserves praise.

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