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Ireland player ratings vs England - 2021 Six Nations

By Liam Heagney
(Photo by PA)

Andy Farrell called for a “statement” performance in the lead-up to this Guinness Six Nations round five finale and he got precisely that and much more judging by the Ireland player ratings below. The Irish finally produced a display that indicated that maybe the former England assistant does genuinely have the tools after all to be a very successful Test level head coach.


It had been a difficult teething process, three wounding defeats in 2020 giving much cause for concern, while the early spring effort further deadened the sense of optimism surrounding the new man who was promoted from underneath Joe Schmidt’s shadow.

Defeats in the opening two rounds had shunted Ireland back to the bad old days of the 90s, 1998 being the last time they had lost two on the bounce at the start of a championship, but this riposte will now give his tenure fresh legs, the expected wins over Italy and Scotland lavishly decorated by this pummelling of England.

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Former Ireland and Lions back-rower Stephen Ferris guests the latest RugbyPass All Access

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Former Ireland and Lions back-rower Stephen Ferris guests the latest RugbyPass All Access

Beaten up on the last four occasions they have faced the English, there was no vulnerability evident as the Irish unleashed a smart approach, soaking up initial pressure before galloping over the hill to a generous but deserved 20-6 interval advantage courtesy of well-worked tries from Keith Earls and Jack Conan.

England had wilted, the sign of two changes getting made to their front row for the start of the second half being all the evidence that was needed to highlight how the tables had been clinically turned following previous bruising encounters.

A pair of Sexton penalties kept the scoreboard ticking and it was only after Bundee Aki saw red for his high shot on Billy Vunipola with 16 minutes remaining that a consolation English revival was glimpsed, Ben Youngs immediately going over.

Sexton struck back with more kicks to soothe any Irish anxiety and not even a Jonny May score with Ireland down to 13 with Conor Murray in the bin was going to smudge their polished performance in a 32-18 win. Here is how their players rated:


Ireland wanted change when Joe Schmidt quit and Keenan has become the one poster boy player for the Farrell era in the sense that he has now played all eleven Test matches this season and had nothing to do with the previous regime. He was excellent here, his agility showcased by his stonking fetch in competition with Elliot Daly of the Sexton bomb that resulted in the Conan try in the other corner. Lions tour selection surely awaits.

The 33-year-old has been like a fine wine, getting tastier with age. Pivotal in last Sunday’s win at Scotland, he caught the eye even more so here, his get-stuck-in attitude encapsulated by how he gunned onto Conan’s off-the-top lineout to blitz the English defence and score. Would have had a deserved second try that he finished excellently early in the second half but for a knock-on elsewhere. A definite Lions tour contender.

Just as we were beginning to savour having Henshaw back this spring as a rejuvenated inside centre, the position from where he built his old midfield partnership with Jared Payne, another blow for the injury-prone Garry Ringrose saw him bumped to outside centre to accommodate Aki’s recall. Started shakily with a deflating carry into touch but typified Irish determination after that, winning penalties after mowing down George Ford and Daly in the tackle and generally being a prickly thorn in the Rose. Continued to be a pest the whole way through and can now expect a call from Warren Gatland.

12. BUNDEE AKI – 6
A first start since the December Nations Cup playoff win over Scotland, the soon-to-be 31-year-old ever-present under Schmidt since 2017 had much to prove given he had tumbled down the Farrell pecking order. Began similarly to Henshaw by needlessly carrying into touch but grew into the exchanges better after that. His evening, though, was ruined by his red card, his second following his sending off versus Samoa at the World Cup.


With his pre-Christmas dalliance at full-back a relative failure, his return for a first cap of 2021 in his more familiar wing berth got off to an unsettling opening as he was bottled up in possession to concede the penalty that nearly had Maro Itoje in for a try. Limited involvements in the opening half but highlighted his alertness when cutting inside in the lead-up to Conan’s score. Then kept things ticking over in the second half.

His 99th cap for Ireland enjoyed an opening half to remember, his kicking on the money and his contribution in general play generally masterful. His on-the-money Garryowens teased Daly into conceding three points and enabled Keenan to grab the territory that eventually led to the Conan try. Continued to pull the strings in the second half, richly enhancing his Lions pick credentials.

Coldly described on Thursday by Eddie Jones as a “pattern player” who seemingly didn’t offer the unstructured threat posed by Jamison Gibson-Park, he went out and showed that patterns are good when consistently delivered. High-tackled by Mako Vunipola on 21 minutes, an infringement that allowed Ireland kick to touch and concoct the lineout trick that got Earls in. His service was slick throughout, either with the pass or the boot. Yellow carded near the end but that was no black mark against his effort.

This selection represented an enormous triumph for the 32-year-old as it was the first time in his career he had been chosen to start twice in the same Six Nations campaign. Seemed to be enormously enjoying himself, particular when packing down against Kyle Sinckler at the scrum. Unfortunately, his effort was cut short, a bang to the head forcing his exit and leading to the arrival of the old warhorse Cian Healy who revelled in the traffic with England on the back foot.

One of those repeat stubborn picks by Farrell, as the soon-to-be 31-year-old should eventually lose the jersey to the up-and-coming Ronan Kelleher, but Herring was excellent on this occasion. His set-piece was reliable and he showed he does get about the park as well: look at how he was up to tackle May near halfway following an Irish clearance from the 22 early in the second half.

Having wowed the rugby world with his magnificent first-half stepping manoeuvre last week in Scotland, he had been coming to the boil nicely in recent weeks following a year-long layoff. Toyed with Vunipola at the scrum and his joy was unconfined when Genge was sent marching backwards midway through the second half. Another player whom Gatland will have his number on speed dial.

With James Ryan unable to beat the head knock protocol, there was a huge emphasis on Henderson setting the tone physically and this he did, never taking a backward step. He was smart when bottling up Itoje in that crucial early period near the Irish line. There were examples of fidgety hands, some fumbles taking away from his effort, but he was very good nonetheless.

First capped off the bench in 2018, this has been a coming-of-age spring for the 29-year-old poacher as selection against the English meant he had started all five matches in this Six Nations, some going when he had only twice previously started in the championship. He was a brilliant nuisance here, right from the moment he got a block on an early Youngs kick. Was lucky not to be injured when his lifters abandoned him to close down Itoje near the line, but his penalty-winning talent was there for all to see when he turned over Charlie Ewels on 47 minutes, an impact that importantly ended early English second-half pressure.

There will never be a meeting of minds regarding those fans who believe Stander’s Ireland Test career was a flag of convenient allegiance and others who felt the South African was as Irish as any Irish-born back row. What we do know is that this 51st and final Ireland cap for the soon-to-be 31-year-old was supreme, the joy on his face after Billy Vunipola got done early in the second half illustrative of how he was brilliantly loving having the final say in their individual duel these past few years.

The openside has been in and out of the Farrell selection like a yo-yo but Will Connors’ injury gave him the opportunity to have the final No7 say in this particular campaign. His gutsy display was capped by the ripped possession on 55 minutes. Sweet.

A first start since September 2019 and just his fourth cap since that pre-World Cup friendly versus Wales, he showed that with Stander retiring there is no need to panic about someone stepping up at No8. Moved excellently in the lineout to set up Earls’ score and then illustrated further fine dexterity when reaching out to score himself later.


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