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Stephen Ferris names the one fringe player who stood out for Ireland this autumn

Stephen Ferris

Stephen Ferris has identified Nick Timoney as the one fringe player in Ireland’s squad who stood out during the Autumn Nations Series.

Ireland won all three of their games against South Africa, Fiji and Australia in November, in a series where several players on the fringes of the national squad got opportunities to impress for their country.

Despite retaining top spot on the World Rugby Rankings with the three victories, the performances were a step below what we’ve seen from Ireland this year, especially in the games against Fiji and Australia.

Andy Farrell was without some key players in those games, most notably captain Johnny Sexton, and their absence was felt as Ireland looked far less cohesive in attack than they did in New Zealand during the summer.

Speaking in his role as an AIB GOAL Mile ambassador, Ferris believes Timoney was the only fringe Ireland player who really stood out, as he won the man of the match award in his sole appearance against Fiji.

Stephen Ferris on Nick Timoney.

“I think somebody who was brilliant in his performance, albeit he probably couldn’t find his groove either, was Nick Timoney,” Ferris said.

“How would he perform in a back row with Caelan Doris and Peter [O’Mahony] and Jack Conan at number eight with a full-strength front five ahead of him? I think he’d do pretty well.

“But that’s not going to happen when you’ve got the world player of the year wearing the number seven jersey. Timoney has played number eight and number six for Ulster a few times over the last couple of seasons.

“He’s not a brilliant line out option and it looks like the way Andy and Paul O’Connell operate their side is they want to really contest the opposition line out with Pete. That’s one of the reasons why he’s there, because of his set-piece ability.

“So Nick’s probably not going to get much of a look in over the next five games in the Six Nations, but at the same time I think he’s put in a performance there that could put him on the plane to a Rugby World Cup, even though it’s nearly 10 months away.

“I think he’s one guy that’s come out of this series who’s been on the fringes who has now gone up a level.”

Fringe players failed to make the jersey their own.

Ferris was not as complimentary of the other unestablished players who were given opportunities for Ireland this month however, in what was a successful but somewhat underwhelming international window.

“Is there anybody else? Probably not,” Ferris admitted, when asked if he thought any other fringe players fully took their opportunities.

“You were kind of sitting in your seat at the weekend going, ‘Please [Jack] Crowley, have a man of the match performance. Get us flowing, get our attack going and make a couple of line breaks, get an offload away.’ It just didn’t happen.

“I know there has been a lot of plaudits for his performance, but for me, I think Joey Carbery probably would have played just as well. Ciarán Frawley as well. It just feels as if the gap between the other out-halves and Johnny is still quite significant.

“Guys like Kieran Treadwell didn’t snatch their opportunity against Fiji, Rob Baloucoune obviously got dropped for the last game. I expected to see a bit more of him.

“Stuart McCloskey obviously played OK, he didn’t really put a foot wrong. But then Bundee [Aki] comes on and scores a nice try to get Ireland over the line.

“Has he dropped down the pecking order again? The honest answer and the reality of it is, probably yes.”

Has Ireland’s attack been figured out?

Since demolishing Japan last November, Ireland’s attack has been extremely potent, as Andy Farrell’s side scored four tries or more in the space of 80 minutes against the likes of New Zealand, England, Wales, Scotland and Argentina.

Ireland scored a combined three tries against South Africa and Australia this month, as the attacking shape that bamboozled New Zealand just a few months beforehand was frequently shut down by rush defence.

The world has clearly taken notice of Ireland’s attacking prowess, and Ferris has stressed that it will be up to Farrell and his coaching team to keep opposition defences guessing.

“[Analysis of Ireland’s attack] is going to get even more detailed the closer we get to the Rugby World Cup,” Ferris commented.

“I think the level of commitment and line speed the South Africans showed against Ireland very early on in that game was impressive. [Makazole] Mapimpi was coming up and destroying anything that was in front of him.

“There were a couple of counter rucks where we got lucky in actually retrieving the ball again. We all know the Rassie [Erasmus] tweets about Dan Sheehan kicking the ball out of the side of the ruck which led to the Mack Hansen try.

“There were a few things that did go our way in that game but they were still able to win it. They challenged South Africa with their kicking game against that rush line speed, there were a couple of balls over the top.

“Conor Murray had a couple of snipes, one obviously created a huge line break at the tail of the line out.

“It’s not now about teams working out Ireland, it’s about Ireland evolving their game plan and evolving their attack to be able to cope with South Africa shutting them down or against France if that happens in a quarter-final.

“Being able to negate their unbelievable physicality, their strength around the scrum and maul, their counter-attacking ability.”

Former Irish International and Ulster Rugby Player, Stephen Ferris, is available for interview as one of this year’s GOAL Mile ambassadors, proudly supported by AIB. This year, AIB will celebrate the long-standing tradition of partaking in the GOAL Mile at Christmas, calling on the people of Ireland to re-establish this tradition with their friends and families or to create a new tradition, and encouraging everyone to Step Up Together for GOAL this Christmas.  Stephen Ferris and a host of other well-known personalities have come on board this year to support this great initiative.

To register for this year’s GOAL Mile, proudly supported by AIB, please log onto www.goalmile.org

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