Some food for thought for Andy Farrell ahead of this evening’s World Cup squad announcement.
Ireland completed their trio of Rugby World Cup warm-up matches with an uninspiring and costly 17-13 victory over Samoa in Bayonne on Saturday night.
The win sees Andy Farrell’s side assured of maintaining their number one world ranking spot heading into next month’s tournament, but that will be little solace for the Irish coaching ticket on a night which saw Keith Earls pull out prior to kick off, alongside a potentially serious calf injury for veteran prop Cian Healy.
Conditions were far from the quintessential balmy French summer’s evening , with the lashings of rain impacting what was a drab affair in the south of France.
Over the course of the 80 minutes, there will have been a number of players who stood out to Andy Farrell on the eve of his final World Cup squad announcement, for both good and bad reasons.
Here are the winners and losers from a night to forget in the provincial French town:Jack Crowley and Ryan Baird were two players who put their hands up for inclusion in upcoming match-day 23’s. (Credit: Sportsfile)
1. Jack Crowley:
Widely viewed as Ireland’s third-choice 10 heading into next month’s tournament, Crowley was a totem of assuredness amidst the uncertainty which surrounded him on Saturday night. A perfectly placed cross-field kick to Mack Hansen to set up Ireland’s opening score, alongside his customary displays of passing excellence and defensive solidity, the Munster man made a very real case to being the man selected as Johnny Sexton’s bench back-up in two weeks time.
2. Ryan Baird:
Ireland’s starting back row for the World Cup is unquestionably already the rampaging trio of Calean Doris, Josh van Der Flier and Peter O’Mahony. However, after last night’s display, not only did Baird likely shove ahead of Connacht’s Cian Prendergast for inclusion in the final squad, but his physicality and work rate may have catapulted the Leinster lock into securing a place on the Irish bench.
3. Conor Murray:
Sometimes considered a forgotten man in this Irish set-up given Jamison Gibson-Park’s role as Johnny Sexton’s half-back dance partner, the Munster scrum half rolled back the years in Bayonne offering up exactly the performance that was required from a Test centurion. A deserved second-half try capped off a well-rounded performance, which saw Murray firmly place himself back into the reckoning for a shot in the starting line-up.Stuart McCloskey threw a poor intercept pass for Samoa’s only try on the night. (Credit: Sportsfile)
1. Stuart McCloskey:
The Ulster centre had been in a rich vein of form prior to Saturday night’s game. Perhaps it was Bundee Aki’s stellar outing against England which left the 31-year-old feeling the need to press the issue, but in the end his will to impress came off as reckless rather than bold. This was encapsulated by his gifting of an intercept pass to Samoa’s Duncan Paia’aua.
2. Tom Stewart:
Another Ulster man who had been enjoying a string of impressive performances, the young hooker was granted the chance to stake a claim with injuries to Leinster duo Dan Sheehan and Ronan Kelleher. Unfortunately this was an opportunity the 22-year-old failed to take, as Ireland’s line-out and scrum were placed under serious pressure, before Rob Herring was brought on to steady the ship.
3. Jimmy O’Brien:
Despite being Ireland’s opening try scorer on the night, it was a performance to forget for the Leinster utility back. Lacking in his usual security under the high ball, O’Brien knocked on a number of times from Lima Sopoaga’s spiralling bombs, before ultimately departing the field with an injury in the second half, denting his hope’s of earning a spot on Ireland’s match-day bench.
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