The Offload: John O’Sullivan’s order of merit for 2021

The players, the try, the tackle and the moments of the rugby year

The players

On the male side of things, James Hume, Mack Hansen, Tom Daly, Iain Henderson, Tadhg Furlong, Josh van der Flier, Caelan Doris and Tadhg Beirne to highlight a few have produced a consistently excellent body of work individually over the past 12 months but it is impossible to ignore the claims of Robbie Henshaw, whether in a Leinster, Ireland or Lions jersey as the standout player.

He was nominated for Six Nations Player of the Tournament and was a key performer for the Lions in the Test series against the Springboks during the summer. He was also voted Players' Player of the Year by his professional peers in Ireland.

Munster and Ireland flanker Dorothy Wall won the women's equivalent and went one step further in doubling up by taking the Young Player of the Year.

The try

Ireland scored some excellent team tries during the Six Nations and Autumn Series but it would be difficult to ignore the one scored by Keith Earls against England at the Aviva Stadium, a homily to training ground precision and execution.


Everything aligned from Rob Herring’s throw to Jack Conan’s footwork and beautifully weighted tap down to the onrushing Earls. The Munster wing still had plenty to do but his change of direction and acceleration took him to the try line ahead of Jonny May’s despairing tackle.

The tackle

James Lowe's bear hug tackle on New Zealand's Rieko Ioane ensured Ireland beat the All Blacks 29-20 at the Aviva. The Leinster wing's read was as beautifully judged as his timing. Peter O'Mahony completed the pincer movement by latching onto the ball and winning a penalty turnover.

The Irish wing offered his insight into the pivotal play flecked with typical humour. “I saw we were in trouble. I thought s**t, we are under the pump here. And then I just tried to anticipate where I thought the ball was going to be, get myself in a better position, make the tackle, and was able to wrap, and then Peter O’Mahony got the turnover. “Mate, it was huge. What you b******s always get on to me about (defence) I’ve been working on for the last six months. Hopefully you can abuse me for something else.”

A moment (1)

Ireland getting Joe Biden’s seal of approval, the US president sending a letter wishing them luck ahead of their Autumn Series game against New Zealand. “Dear Team Ireland, I wanted to send you my best wishes as you face the New Zealand All Blacks tomorrow.

"I was thrilled to congratulate the entire team, especially my cousin Rob Kearney, back in 2016 when you first beat the All Blacks in Chicago – a historic moment in Irish rugby. Since then you have beaten the All Blacks in 2018 and I know you can do it again this year. Your fans in Aviva stadium, throughout Ireland, will be rooting you on to another victory.

“As the Irish blessing says, “Wherever you go and whatever you do, may the luck of the Irish be there with you”. He followed up in the aftermath of Ireland’s win with a Face Time phone call to the players and management.

A moment (2)

A letter signed by 62 current and former Irish women rugby players sent to the government seeking their intervention following a breakdown in trust with the IRFU and seeking greater transparency in dealings with the union. The IRFU’s ill-considered reaction was replaced by a more conciliatory response a week later in which they confirmed that they will publish two independent reports into Irish women’s rugby, the findings of which will make for interesting reading.