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Ireland player ratings versus South Africa – Castle Lager Test One

By Liam Heagney
Ireland players (from left) Cian Healy, Finlay Bealham, Bundee Aki and James Lowe after the first Test loss to South Africa (Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile via Getty Images)

Ireland player ratings live from Loftus Versfeld: After all the talk, South Africa’s big day finally arrived and they had their chance to avenge last September’s Rugby World Cup pool defeat. They may have gone on to be reigning back-to-back world champions the following month in France, but their 8-13 setback to the Irish in Paris still rankled and fed into the hype surrounding the opener to this two-Test series in Pretoria.


Ireland fielded in Pretoria with just two of the starting backline from that Stade de France success 10 months ago – Bundee Aki and James Lowe – but with six of the same run-on pack. They endured a sticky start with the Springboks suggesting they could run away with it after scoring a third-minute try through Kurt-Lee Arendse.

However, 10 points was the widest the first half margin stretched to and with the Irish growing in defiance, Jamie Osborne’s classy finish on 35 minutes gave us a tense 8-13 contest that remained unchanged until a calamitous 65th-minute James Lowe error. In keeping a Handre Pollard touchfinder in play, it gave Cheslin Kolbe a gift of a try.

The cruel irony was that just eight minutes earlier, Lowe thought he had pulled Ireland level with a dashing break from inside his own half. Unfortunately, after a lengthy TMO review, sub hooker Ronan Kelleher was penalised for a ruck infringement and the try was ruled out.

22m Entries

Avg. Points Scored
Avg. Points Scored

With Pollard converting the Kolbe try, the Boks, who incredibly changed six of their starting pack in a single substitution on 50 minutes, now had an 8-20 advantage, but a bizarre finish was about to unfold after a yellow card for Arendse.

Ireland’s best player Caelan Doris was held up over the line but sub Conor Murray raced in after the restart following a burst from fellow replacement Kelleher. Jack Crowley’s conversion left it 15-20 with time remaining but Lowe then crazily tried to play Pollard’s restart in the in-goal area instead of letting it go dead. That was madness and a penalty try and yellow card for Kelleher was the outcome of the ensuing five-metre scrum.

Ireland did have the final say, Ryan Baird getting in at the corner, but the ball falling from the tee left Crowley missing the conversion from the hands and time then ran out, resulting in a 20-27 loss for Andy Farrell’s team who will rue not attacking the game as well as they could in the opening. Here are the Ireland player ratings:


15. Jamie Osborne – 7
What a venue to be given you Test debut. Looked the part too. Safe hands under the Garryowen. Excellent finish for his 35th-minute try. Only frustration was having Arendse step inside too cheaply to score. Gone on 51.

14. Calvin Nash – 5.5
Played the full 80 but didn’t feature much as Ireland simply didn’t play with width in their attack down his side. Left looking sluggish, only getting close enough to Arendse to put in an attempted hand trip that didn’t work. Did have a part in the late Baird try.

13. Robbie Henshaw – 6.5
His defiance helped to keep Ireland afloat in a first half where it seemed they could topple over. Best moment was the hard won yards at the kernel of the attack that earned his team their first penalty points on 13 minutes. Took a jarring dunt from Siya Kolisi soon after and didn’t return for the second half.

12. Bundee Aki – 6
The out-and-out Irish star at the World Cup, he was kept honest here. A brainless penalty concession early in the second half summed up his lack of general precision.


11. James Lowe – 5
Decision making in his own half cost his team hugely. While he was excellent with the offload that created Osborne’s try, majestic in finishing his own breakaway score which was cruelly ruled out by TMO and also in giving Baird his assist, he paid a very heavy price defensively for keeping a Pollard touchfinder in play as Kolbe scored. Then made the desperate choice of playing another Pollard kick from the in-goal area, costing the scrum that resulted in a penalty try.

10. Jack Crowley – 6.5
Was Ireland’s best player for a chunk of the first half until a kick out on the full was followed by a crucial missed penalty kick on 32 minutes. Got back at it in the second half but with Ireland’s attack struggling to fire, he couldn’t make the decisive difference and the late flourish versus 14 South African players came too late.

9. Craig Casey – 6.5
Given the enormous task of filling the void left by the injured Jamison Gibson-Park. Whereas JGP is all fizz and instinct, Casey is more methodical but after a slow start, he came to the boil. His 50/22 kick in the second half was a peach but he sadly exited on a medical cart after a head knock.

1. Andrew Porter – 6.5
You can’t fault his set-piece basics as the Irish scrum was solid while he was on. His engine was also impressive given it is the 13th month of his season but he hurt his team with some rash breakdown interventions, including conceding the off-feet penalty that gave Pollard points on 29 minutes. Gone on 53, back on 63, gone again on 74.

2. Dan Sheehan – 6
Mixed bag of a first half featuring a crooked throw but then involvement in the Osborne try. Hurt his knee, though, and didn’t come back for the second half. Is now a major doubt for next Saturday.

3. Tadhg Furlong – 6.5
Played 63 minutes and was typical Furlong in many aspects but the odd ball carry here and there, which needed to happen in pressured times for his team, didn’t happen.

4. Joe McCarthy – 5.5
Looked like a player who was running on low at the end of a fine breakthrough season. Knocked on at the line early on, although the pass was poor from Peter O’Mahony. Also gave up some penalties, including a not-rolling that allowed the Boks to go 3-10 up in the 18th minute. Hooked on 50 for James Ryan.

5. Tadhg Beirne – 7
Looked pedestrian and yet he got around the place smartly and played the full 80, putting in a shift that included a chunky tackle count, maul effectiveness and breakdown value.

6. Peter O’Mahony – 6
A decent tackle count but struggled to otherwise shine. Poor try-ruining pass to McCarthy. Also, got sat down by Damian de Allende, which wasn’t a good look. Only played 50.

7. Josh van der Flier – 6.5
A busy bee. Best moment was a huge turnover in his own 22 on 53 minutes with the game delicately poised.

8. Caelan Doris – 8.5
Mr Turnover W and by far the best Ireland player. Some very intelligent contributions the whole way through in all aspects of his game. Frustratingly held up over the line late on.

16. Ronan Kelleher – 5.5
Sent on at half-time, he gave up some key penalties including getting frustratingly penalised at the ruck for playing the ball on the floor, which cancelled the Lowe try, even though he appeared to have been neck-rolled to the ground before he went off feet. Was then yellow carded after the penalty try scrum. On the plus side, it was his break and nice pass that sent in Murray.

17. Cian Healy – 5
Played from 53 to 63, and again from 74. Won’t want to relive the late shoved-back scrum.

18. Finlay Bealham – 5.5
Arrived on 63 and it was his movement that sparked the play for Murray’s score. As with Healy, won’t want to see a replay of that scrum penalty try.

19. James Ryan – 6.5
A 50th-minute introduction, he immediately got stuck in with a big tackle and went on to do well.

20. Ryan Baird – 6.5
Replaced O’Mahony on 50 and was effective, getting rewarded for staying out wide to be able to score in the corner on 79 minutes.

21. Conor Murray – 6.5
Replaced the injured Casey for the closing 15 minutes. Slow start as was beaten by Kolbe after Lowe kept the ball in play, but later showed his class when finishing the Kelleher break. Generally energised the Irish play but it was too late as they were always playing catch-up.

22. Ciaran Frawley – 6
A 51st-minute introduction for Osborne, he stood up in the tackle immediately and went on not to let his team down.

23. Garry Ringrose – 7.5
A half-time swap for Henshaw, he played like a player who had a point to prove after a long time out. Excellent value in keeping Ireland in the contest.


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Thomas 13 days ago

In what universe was Calvin “the Invisible” Nash better than Lowe?
Sure, Lowe had a handful of blunders, but that’s because he tried and got involved. More than can be said about Nash, who was a background noise in the picture of the game.
Also, Crowley kicked even worse than Pollard, yet got 6.5 points?
How does that make any sense.

keith 15 days ago

With 3 international referees monitoring South Africa v Ireland, why am I seeing the TMO getting involved so much.All the forward passes missed,collapsed scrums,neck rolls where does the TMO role begin and end?Officials need to step up and improve.It was a similar story in the WustraliavWales game.

JOHN 15 days ago

Lol, whoever made these ratings is skinflint so sting it makes Scrooge McDuck look like a generous benefactor, I know South Africa defeated Ireland but these ratings are mean.

Vellies 16 days ago

Why give POM more than 2 after DDA completely bossed him… was nowhere to be seen after that..!!!

amy 16 days ago

In my opinion I think all these ratings were quite harsh. Especially Lowe with the lowest rating at 5 he played way better than a lot on the team. But I do think the whole team were rated harshly.

jim 16 days ago

Think it harsh to criticise Lowe for keeping the ball in play preventing an attacking SA line out. Think the blame lies solely with the other 6 backs who were slower than a winger who was 30 metres back at the start of the penalty kick. Taken disgustingly brilliantly by Kolbe, some player

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Wonton 2 hours ago
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Nick 4 hours ago
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