In a tense and often chaotic game at the Aviva Stadium, Ireland came out winners against Australia by a score of 26-23. Here’s how we rated the players, as the Autumn Internationals come to an end with an Irish clean sweep of victories:
Rob Kearney 9/10
A stellar display from the Leinster fullback. His positioning throughout was perfect, and he contested so many high balls going forward which created havoc in the Australian ranks. Attempted an audacious drop kick in the second half which just hit the post – and went off with a few minutes remaining after putting in a herculean effort.
Tommy Bowe 7/10
Ran in a wonderful intercept try in the first half – which sent Ireland into a 17-0 lead and from there it looked like they could run rampant. Didn’t put a foot wrong in the second half and was always a danger on the right wing.
Robbie Henshaw 8/10
The first big game at 13 for Henshaw in an Ireland shirt, and boy did he step up to the challenge. Trying to contain that Australian backline in the first half was a difficult task for the most important defensive position at outside centre – but he came good. Ran hard lines all evening and looked dangerous at times. A great kick near the end relieved the immense pressure on the Ireland 22. A wonderful display from a talent making his mark on the biggest stage of all.
Gordon D’Arcy 7/10
A busy and confident display from the Leinster veteran. His experience helped Henshaw outside him, and D’Arcy showed some nice moves with the ball in hand – especially in the frantic first period. Justified his starting position – but will be disappointed with the amount of points conceded in the first half, despite the mesmeric Australian attack.
Simon Zebo 7/10
Latched on brilliantly to Sexton’s early cross kick, it was a mirror image of Bowe’s second half effort against South Africa. Zebo looked dangerous on the left wing – but went for an offload that wasn’t there to gift Australia their first try, and a foothold in the game. Still, it’s the small margins that can come off or not in the creative positions.
Jonny Sexton 8/10
Kicked well from the tee and out of hand, Sexton yet again was one of the cornerstones of another fantastic Ireland performance. He put in some towering Garryowens for Kearney and Henshaw to chase in the first half, and managed the game well. Will be disappointed with a missed tackle for an Australian try, but the match was in chaos at that stage. His early cross kick for Zebo was another thing of beauty.
Conor Murray 8/10
A real leader of this Ireland team. Box kicked well when needed and was always there in defence. Slotted in to the no.10 position for the last couple of minutes, even though he had taken a massive knock to the head minutes earlier. A heroic and measured display from the Munster scrum-half.
Jack McGrath 7/10
McGrath put himself about the pitch with vigour and presented for the ball in open play throughout. Ireland’s scrum came under pressure in the second half but McGrath and others stabilised it in the closing period and started to get the upper hand. He’s made his mark on this Ireland team in the Autumn – and when Healy is back, Ireland will know the strength in depth they have in the loose head prop position will be the envy of many teams.
Rory Best 6/10
A few loose throws at the lineout from the Ulster hooker should not take away from his immense work rate around the field and the sheer physicality on show throughout. The fact that this was his first game back from injury puts his performance into perspective. His replacement Sean Cronin was also excellent – once again showing the strength in depth that Ireland possess going forward.
Mike Ross 8/10
Absolutely phenomenal staying power from Ross. To play the whole 80 minutes at the pace that this game was motoring was a testament to the Leinster man’s commitment to the cause. Kept popping up in defence all over the pitch and was a key part to stabilising the scrum late on.
Devin Toner 6/10
A typically physical performance from Toner, and he was always a willing runner during his time on the pitch. Replaced by Dave Foley in the second half, Toner will be pleased with his physical imput. Will still be O’Connell’s second row partner come the Six Nations, injuries permitting.
Paul O’Connell 9/10
The man of the match, and a quintessential Captain’s display on an evening where Ireland shut up the defensive wall in the second half and stopped Australia’s rampaging attack from getting over the line. O’Connell was everywhere throughout – a massive tackle with five minutes to go summed up his day. A great player and an even better leader.
Peter O’Mahony 7/10
The blindside helped his openside colleague Ruddock get a handle on the breakdown, and the whole of the Irish backrow will be proud that the Australians were neutered in the second half. Standard O’Mahony levels of tackling and ball carrying were on show all game, as we have come to expect of the Munster stalwart.
Rhys Ruddock 8/10
Up against the ultimate-openside in Michael Hooper, Ruddock held his own in the second half and looked well able for this level of international rugby. He put in so many huge hits all evening, and was one of the keys to Ireland’s defence withstanding the final Australian surge.
Jamie Heaslip 7/10
Mopped up some of the scrappier Irish play around the fringes, the Leinster man was generally efficient with ball in hand. Heaslip is the ultimate safe pair of hands in the no.8 position and was effective in everything he did this evening, including some major hits in the final 20 as Ireland went all hands to the pump to secure the victory.