Close sidebar

The Winners And Losers From Ireland’s Brilliant Autumn Series

Guinness Series, Aviva Stadium, Dublin 26/11/2016 Ireland vs Australia Ireland's Peter O'Mahony celebrates at the final whistle Mandatory Credit ©INPHO/James Crombie

2016 has been a remarkable year for Irish rugby. After the disappointment of exiting the World Cup at the quarter final stage and an underwhelming Six Nations campaign, Ireland risked dropping out of game’s top eight nations and missing out on a seeding at the 2019 tournament.

Although it could easily be argued that Ireland missed an opportunity to claim a series win over South Africa in June, the three match tour saw Joe Schmidt continue to make alterations to his tactics and selection.

After claiming consecutive Six Nations Championships, Ireland’s approach had gone stale and Schmidt ran the risk of suffering the same fate as Wales under Warren Gatland, who are only now moving on from the ‘Warrenball’ approach with which they have become synonymous.

Although it would have been easy for Schmidt to remain loyal to the game plan that brought Ireland so much success, he has instead managed to rapidly evolve the composition of his side and the tactics they employ.

The catalyst for this evolution in style occurred in Twickenham during last season’s Six Nations, where Ireland held onto possession instead of kicking the ball, and looked to create as opposed to applying pressure in defence.

Despite losing that game 21-10, Ireland could have very easily come away with a famous win had Jack Nowell not managed to stop Robbie Henshaw from scoring in the corner during the 65th minute.

Ireland went onto score 93 points in their remaining games against Italy and Scotland, before injury took it’s toll against South Africa.

However Ireland’s ambition to play the game at a much higher tempo remains. In Chicago Ireland simply refused to let the All Blacks out of their half by opting to kick for touch rather than taking the three points of offer.

Like everything they do, New Zealand’s restarts are excellent and so it was worth risking losing at the line out rather than putting themselves under immediate pressure from a brilliant Beauden Barrett kick off.

Although Ireland couldn’t play to the same tempo in the return fixture, losing Johnny Sexton, Robbie Henshaw and CJ Stander midway through the first half limited their approach.

Despite continuing to show ambition and during the second quarter of the match, without having the players to straighten the line in midfield, Ireland couldn’t create space out wide.

Consequently Schmidt changed Ireland’s approach at half time, opting to use his ball carriers either side of Paddy Jackson to smash over the gain line.

Ireland of course fell short, but demonstrated that they have now a number of weapons in their armory.

Against Australia Ireland reverted to the tactics that have served them so well since the defeat in Twickenham, moving the ball wide with purpose and maintaining a high tempo.

However, unlike the game against the All Blacks, Ireland’s ball carriers remained on the field allowing them to fix the defence before exploiting the resulting space.

Ireland’s ambition was rewarded with a deluge of early penalties, which gave them the platform to use their line out.

Whereas Ireland were once predictable, Schmidt’s side can now attack with the pace and accuracy that we only ever saw when southern hemisphere opposition rolled into town.

While some have benefited from Schmidt’s new approach, others have suffered.


1. Josh van der Flier

Ireland v New Zealand - International Match

After being handed his debut against England, Josh van der Flier hasn’t looked back. This time last year he was only breaking into the Leinster team and now looks to be one of Ireland’s most important players.

His performance against the All Blacks was fantastic and he subsequently saw off both David Pocock and Michael Hooper without much difficulty.

Van der Flier’s ability to cover ground and offer the support lines of a traditional seven make him invaluable to Schmidt’s new approach.

Not only his he available off the shoulder of the initial ball carrier, but he is very often the first player to arrive at a ruck, securing quick possession for Ireland’s subsequent phase.

Consequently, Van der Flier has become one of the most important cogs in Ireland’s high tempo strategy.

2. Paddy Jackson

Paddy Jackson

It wasn’t too long ago the nation would fret over the fitness of Johnny Sexton in the lead up to crucial internationals. However in the last six months Paddy Jackson has closed the gap on his rival.

Although he must improve his tactical kicking, particularly against top class fullbacks who only love to exploit any such errors. One such poor kick gave Ben Smith the opportunity to counter attack and ultimately led to Malakai Fekitoa’s match winning try.

Again against Australia some of his kicks were misplaced, leading to immediate counter attacking opportunities. Jackson’s dink over the Australian cover from inside his own 22 just as the second half got underway could have resulted in more serious consequences.

While Jackson may have finished the autumn series with 100% return on penalties, he has been inconsistent at times for Ulster in the Pro12, with their narrow win over the Ospreys earlier this season immediately springing to mind.

Nevertheless Jackson has improved this aspect of his game in recent seasons, and brings added pace to Ireland’s backline when selected in place of Sexton.

3. Gary Ringrose

Guinness Series, Aviva Stadium, Dublin 26/11/2016 Ireland vs Australia Ireland's Garry Ringrose scores his sides second try Mandatory Credit ©INPHO/Dan Sheridan


Gary Ringrose could count himself unlucky to have missed out on Ireland’s tour of South Africa last summer. The consensus opinion at the time suggested that he was a little light for international rugby.

However the Leinster player has bulked up, and didn’t look out of place when tested defensively at inside centre, and boy was he tested against big back row forwards and oversized midfield opponents.

We all know how dangerous Ringrose is with ball in hand, and so for him to dismiss suggestions over his perceived slender frame so easily was very encouraging for Ireland.

Although Australia seemed to be participating in the mannequin challenge as Ringrose shot over the line for his first international try, he did spot the space created by Devin Toner’s subtle block on an aggrieved Wallaby defender.


1. Mike Ross

CARDIFF, WALES - SEPTEMBER 19: Mike Ross of Ireland works in the Irish maul during the 2015 Rugby World Cup Pool D match between Ireland and Canada at the Millennium Stadium on September 19, 2015 in Cardiff, United Kingdom. (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)

This time last year Irish fans panicked as Marty Moore took the decision to join Wasps, seemingly leaving Ireland with an ageing Mike Ross and an inexperienced Tadhg Furlong.

Fast forward twelve months and neither Ross or Moore were included in an Irish squad that contained three in-form tightheads.

Not only that, but Furlong dominated at scrum time against the All Blacks and Wallabies, with Finlay Bealham providing impact from the bench and John Ryan adding to Ireland’s depth.

Unfortunately for Ross his time with Ireland looks to have come to a close, but in his place has come a monster player.

2. Peter O’Mahony

Guinness Series, Aviva Stadium, Dublin 26/11/2016 Ireland vs Australia Ireland's Peter O'Mahony celebrates the final whistle Mandatory Credit ©INPHO/Morgan Treacy

Although Peter O’Mahony maybe a world class player in his own right, the Munster captain has become a victim of circumstance.

12 months ago O’Mahony was almost seen as a shoo-in for selection, however given the form of Jamie Heaslip, CJ Stander, Sean O’Brien and Josh van der Flier, winning a place on the bench now seems a tough task.

The flanker did demonstrate his raw passion, power and ability when he came on against Australia, but O’Mahony has slipped down the pecking order while injured and now faces the difficult task of trying to break into one of the most competitive back rows in international rugby.

3. Ian Madigan

France v Ireland - Group D: Rugby World Cup 2015

Ian Madigan understood the consequences of moving abroad when he took the decision to join Bordeaux Begles.

However, few would have predicted the rise of Joey Carbery. After spending much of last season playing for Clontarf, the Leinster play-maker has established himself in the Irish squad.

The fact that Carbery didn’t looked phased either on his debut against New Zealand or while playing out of position against Australia underlines his potential.

Therefore, if Madigan does decide to return to Ireland at some point in the future, not only will Carbery and Jackson be blocking his path back into national team, but possibly Tyler Bleyendaal after he becomes Irish qualified next season.

Alan Drumm, Pundit Arena

Heineken Rugby Club celebrates and rewards real supporters who make the game what it is.

Heineken Rugby Club – where rugby meets the world.

Read More About: , , , , , , , , , , ,

Author: The PA Team

This article was written by a member of The PA Team.