Last weekend marked the beginning of a new season for Irish Rugby as the provinces were back in action for the first time since May.
Glasgow Warriors avenged last year’ semi-final defeat to Connacht by throttling the defending champions 41-5 in Galway, while Munster, Leinster and Ulster all opened up their campaigns with opening weekend wins.
To kick off the first of a series of top performer pieces for this season, we look at the top Irish performers from the weekend (sorry Ruan Pienaar, as good as you were on Friday, as with the IRFU, due to your nationality you will be excluded here).
[tie_slide] 1. Joey Carberry
The Ireland U20’s fly-half was simply brilliant in his first full appearance for Leinster as his two try performance guided Leinster to a 20-8 win over Treviso at the RDS.
Carberry was composed, attacked the line with the ball in two hands and had a great eye for spotting a gap in just his second game for the Blues.
With Johnny Sexton still a couple of weeks away from returning to play, Carberry looks poised to reprise his role as Leinster fly-half this Saturday when Leo Cullen’s side head to Glasgow to take on the Warriors.
[tie_slide] 2. Jacob Stockdale
One of the stars of Ireland’s U20 campaign at the Junior World Cup earlier this year and one of the shining lights during Ulster’s win against the Dragons on Friday night.
Ran well, looked for the ball and created a try for himself with a brilliant diagonal grubber through the Newport defence.
Has put down a serious marker for a spot on the wing in what is a hugely congested Ulster three-quarter line.
[tie_slide]3. Robert Lyttle
Scored a try either side of halftime after replacing Craig Gilroy and looked very composed in his Pro 12 debut.
Has a slender frame in comparison to some of his teammates in the Ulster backline but is nevertheless very skilled and rotated his body brilliantly in Ulster’s second score of the game.
Will face fierce competition for a place in Ulster’s matchday squad but looked very assured in his first appearance at the Kingspan.
[tie_slide] 4. Tommy O’Donnell
Worked tirelessly in a man of the match performance during Munster’s away win at the Scarlets.
Ran straight and hard, tackled courageously and was a real pest around the breakdown for the Red Army.
Great start to the season for O’Donnell who looks poised for an Ireland re-call if he can maintain that type of form and stay injury free.
[tie_slide]5. Jack O’Donoghue
Burst onto the scene for Munster last year and looks poised for a breakout season after an all-action performance in Llanelli.
His athleticism and workrate was a very big asset for Munster on the weekend as he continually got over the gainline and got through a ton of work on the defensive side of the ball.
Will give Rassie Erasmus and Anthony Foley plenty to think about with the pending returns of Peter O’Mahony and CJ Stander.
[tie_slide]6. Stuart Olding
Has taken the confidence of an Ireland re-call in South Africa and brought it into this season with a polished performance against the Dragons.
Constantly attacked the line and caused the Dragons a lot of problems on the fringes. Distributed the ball well and while he still looks like he’s not at his best, he is definitely heading in the right direction.
[tie_slide]7. Josh van Der Flier
There weren’t a lot of positives to come out of Leinster’s opening day win over Treviso but the return to form of Josh van Der Flier was definitely one of them.
Originally included in Joe Schmidt’s squad to South Africa, the 23-year-old sat out the summer with an ankle injury but looked back on track at the RDS with a great performance that included his typical array of tackling, ball running and pilfers.
[tie_slide]8. James Cronin
Cronin only played 55 minutes for Munster before being replaced by Dave Kilcoyne but he provided the Red Army with great punch going forward as well as solidarity in the scrum.
Scored Munster’s opening try and out-scrummaged highly rated South African tighthead Werner Kruger.
[tie_slide]9. Rob Herring
Deputising as captain in place of Rory Best, Herring was predictably solid for Les Kiss’ side and got through plenty of work as the anchor of Ulster’s scrum.
Was accurate in the lineout, worked hard in defence, and carried well as Ulster outmuscled an inexperienced Dragons pack.
[tie_slide]10. Darren Sweetnam
Wasn’t quite as electric as Lyttle or Stockdale, but performed admirably for Munster as the former Cork hurler was dependably solid at the back as well as engaging in attack.
Sweetnam isn’t blessed with blistering space or brute strength but he continually looked for the ball and got over the gain line when Munster shifted it wide.
Will face major competition from Keith Earls and Andrew Conway but was steady and reliable for the Reds on Saturday.
Jack O’Toole, Pundit Arena
Read More About: cj stander, connacht, Darren Sweetnam, irish rugby, jack o'donoghue, Jacob Stockdale, james cronin, Joey Carberry, Johnny Sexton, josh van der flier, Leinster, Munster, peter o'mahony, Pro 12, Rob Herring, Rob Lyttle, Stuart Olding, tommy o'donnell, Top Performers, ulster, Week 1