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Taking stock - Winners and losers from Ireland’s November campaign

Lessons were gleaned from Springbok and Wallabies games while several players advanced their personal claims

One of the issues with becoming very good and, say, winning a series against the All Blacks in New Zealand, is increased analysis by the opposition.

Recall how Eddie Jones and England went to extraordinary lengths in combating the all-conquering Ireland of 2018 for the first Six Nations games of 2019.

So it was that the Springboks and the Wallabies resolved to go after Ireland’s ruck ball, either slowing it down or pilfering turnovers, to stymie one of Ireland’s life bloods. The world champions also imposed their aggressive blitz defence, albeit with more precision and accuracy

Australia were actually even more effective in containing the Irish attack with their drift defence.


Ireland could easily have lost both games, particularly if Handre Pollard and Quade Cooper hadn’t been ruled out. But, importantly, they didn’t. Had they done so, it would have fuelled the two biggest questions about this team, namely they can’t cope with bigger, physical sides, or win without the main man.

Okay, the main man is still the main man and that’s not going to change between now and the World Cup.

Even so, like all good sides, Ireland found a way without their attack truly firing, thanks in the main to the energy and belief in their defence, and the enduring quality of their lineout and scrum, which also had a good month. At times, those foundations are as important a way to win a match.

Andy Farrell will have welcomed that and also the problems both South Africa and Australia exposed, as well as all the disruptions which came their way this past month.

There was Robbie Henshaw’s withdrawal the day before the Springboks’ game, Stuart McCloskey following suit in the 26th minute, Jimmy O’Brien debuting seamlessly at outside centre, losing the main man [Sexton] not long before the kick-off and so having Jack Crowley and, ultimately, Ross Byrne steer the ship home.

There will be plenty for Farrell and co to ponder in countering what the Boks and Wallabies threw at them, as there will be plenty more of that to come, beginning with Wales in Cardiff and not least when France visit in round two of the 2023 Six Nations.

Farrell has a wealth of experience from being an assistant coach at two World Cup campaigns for both England and, more pertinently, Ireland. It’s patently obvious he wants this team to be more adaptable than the class of 2018/2019, and that they are.

Admittedly, the three Test wins out of three cannot camouflage the disappointing performance of the Ireland ‘A’ team, against a more experienced and loaded All Blacks XV. As a consequence, the general view is that not as many players advanced their claim as was hoped, yet there have perhaps been more winners than is generally appreciated.

The winners:

Jimmy O’Brien. Came into the window uncapped, came out of it with three caps in three different positions. Now it’s hard to conceive of a World Cup squad without him, and perhaps even a frontline Test 23 as well.

Jack Crowley. Originally the replacement outhalf in the ‘A’ game, he benefited from injuries to others to make a 34-minute debut against Fiji and start against Australia. His body language, energy, enthusiasm and skill set, while not overplaying his hand, marked the biggest month of his career. Interesting to see where his season, and career, go from here.

Stuart McCloskey. After his slow-burning, stop-start career, to be one of only five players to start all three games represents real progress. Unlucky to go off early after a very bright start against South Africa, he was used as a battering ram against Australia. Yet Bundee Aki’s cameo underlined the feeling that the Bangor Bruiser remains third in the ‘12′ pecking order.

Jeremy Loughman. His debut against Fiji would seem to underline his status as third loose-head prop in the squad. Big, strong and the prototype of skilful forward which Farrell and Paul O’Connell promote.

Joe McCarthy. Unlucky early casualty in the ‘A’ game, tellingly he was called into the match-day squad at the first available opportunity for his debut against Australia. Understandably, Farrell and co clearly like such a rare beast in Irish rugby, and he put himself about in his 20 minutes.

Nick Timoney. His two-try performance against Fiji in just his third cap demonstrated how his game has developed and cemented his place in the squad.

Max Deegan. Was only one of the additional players for the A game when squad was announced but overtook Gavin Coombes to win his second cap against Fiji. A skilful player, combined with twice captaining Emerging Ireland, he’s also made strides.

Ross Byrne. Want a self-confident player to answer a late call-up and land a clutch kick? No better man. Seemingly out of consideration until last Tuesday, can’t be that anymore.


Allowing for injuries, such as those that affected Conor Murray, Ciaran Frawley, Joey Carbery and Rob Henshaw, for others the last month might seem like an opportunity lost.

Kieran Treadwell. It might seem strange to describe this window as a setback for a player whose start against Fiji represented his sixth cap in a row, in addition to starting both Maori games. But having been replaced with half an hour remaining, to then be supplanted by McCarthy last weekend looked significant.

Gavin Coombes. The number ‘8′ was arguably Ireland’s best player in the two Maori games, not least when the going was tough, but having been named in the original squad he was sent back to Munster after making little impact in the ‘A’ game, while Deegan was promoted.

Michael Lowry. On fire for Ulster when beating the first tackle for fun this season, he went into the window as apparent back-up to Hugo Keenan but after that one outing for the A side he never featured in the three Tests.

Jacob Stockdale. Just one undistinguished outing for the ‘A’ side represents a disappointing return for the man who scored seven tries in the 2018 Six Nations. Not to have a chance to demonstrate his X factor and left boot in Lowe’s absence makes this window more of a setback.

James Hume. Had seemingly established himself as one of the four centres in the mix and back-up to Garry Ringrose last season, but after being injured in the first Maori game his only outing this month was when receiving a fierce buffeting at inside centre in the ‘A’ game.