15. Rob Kearney: 7.5
Sparked into life with an electrifying break just before the interval and continued in that vein thereafter, running some attacking lines and providing an assist for younger brother Dave on debut. The Kearney family will be very pleased with that!
14. Tommy Bowe: 5
There weren’t many opportunities for Bowe to get involved from first phase ball as the Irish pack took the game to Samoa early on, and he’ll have been frustrated watching his replacement Dave Kearney run in two fairly straightforward tries as Ireland pulled away in the final quarter.
13. Brian O’Driscoll: 7
George Pisi had better of their duel in the beginning but Drico reined him in, and although this wasn’t vintage stuff, we can hardly expect perfection of a player who’s made only one appearance so far this season. The tank was running dry before the hour yet he still felt compelled to entertain with an audacious but effective between the legs pass which subsequently resulted in Sean O’Brien barging over.
12. Gordon D’Arcy: 6
Admittedly this was one selection I didn’t agree with, and his first half performance did little to justify leaving Luke Marshall out of the XV. D’Arcy began the match in such a fashion that he wouldn’t have looked out of place watching the game down the local, though that may be as much to do with his beard as his performance. In fairness, he was much improved in the second period, carrying strongly more than once and creating an overlap which released Fergus McFadden for his try.
11. Fergus McFadden: 7.5
McFadden deserves credit for an industrious performance, and looks ever more comfortable on the wing despite it not being his preferred position. He worked his socks off, coming off his flank on several occasions, and more than deserved to stroll in for a second half try.
10. Paddy Jackson: 7.5
Jackson looked as though a huge weight of pressure had been lifted and played with composure, demonstrating a maturity to his game which Ulster have benefitted from this season. Joe Schmidt could have a huge impact on Jackson’s development moving forward, and there was evidence of his improved place kicking (75%).
9. Conor Murray: 6.5
Despite not starting any of the tests Murray had a strong Lions tour, and comes back to Irish duty with his reputation enhanced. He was mostly restricted to a defensive game on Saturday though, making good use of his size and pace to cover Samoan line breaks. He was a match for Fotuali’i and that duel will be useful preparation for a greater challenge against Genia next weekend.
8. Jamie Heaslip: 6.5
His role for Ireland has evolved over the last season or so, and he’s still growing into that position of authority when asked to captain the side as he was on Saturday. Heaslip showed good feet and handling skills at the base of a dominant pack, and typically he was the first to double figures in the tackle count.
7. Chris Henry: 6
A crowd favourite at Ravenhill, Henry has been incredibly unlucky not to receive more recognition for the national side in the last 18 months. I’d suggest that the previous coaching ticket undervalued his worth, and it was great to see Schmidt give him a deserved start but ultimately Henry will be bitterly disappointing with being forced to leave the field due to a hamstring injury after an impressive first half hour.
6. Peter O’Mahony: 8.5
One of his best performances in Green, O’Mahony revelled in the physicality of the Samoan collisions. Not only did the Munster captain carry the ball forward incredibly well, he was a menace at the breakdown and never shied away from some massive contacts. He looks like a future captain, potentially more so than Heaslip after that performance. His try off an Irish rolling maul, something we haven’t seen executed so well recently, will have pleased John Plumtree too.
5. Mike McCarthy: 5.5
While it’s hard to fault any of the pack, which dispatched the Samoan unit with relative ease, McCarthy hasn’t found form in 2013 yet and will be looking over his shoulder with Dan Tuohy putting in some superb displays again. There were no glaring errors, but McCarthy is still guilty of receiving the ball flat footed and can struggle to get across the gain line as a result. He could find himself slipping down the pecking order in the engine room.
4. Devin Toner: 6.5
In contrast to his second row partner, Toner is in the form of his career. Standing at 6’10’’ he’s always been a valuable asset in the lineout, but the 2013 version has proved that he has more to offer for Leinster and now Ireland. It looks like a straight choice between Toner and McCarthy for the Wallabies clash with O’Connell certain to start, and on this showing Toner takes it.
3. Mike Ross: 7.5
Hanging on to his Leinster and Ireland jersey with Martin Moore pressing hard for test inclusion, Ross was actually impressive in all aspects on Saturday. He’s clearly worked hard with the scrum gurus after appearing to struggle with the new laws initially, and he looked more energised than we’ve seen him in an Ireland shirt. Is there finally some depth in the Irish tight head department?
2. Rory Best: 9
I can’t imagine a more humble player, he won’t accept any of the praise headed his direction but Rory Best was outstanding; a stunning performance from the hooker. Asides from an almost faultless set piece – it was nice to see a hooker that can actually hook the ball – Best won or was involved in countless turnovers, and at times you could have mistaken that number 2 on his back for a 7. After coming in for criticism on the Lions tour, he played as though he had a point to prove. Well, he did that and more.
1. Jack McGrath: 9
It was a great day for the two debutants as Jack McGrath was officially named man of the match. He comfortably dismissed the challenge of Mulipola and Johnston in the front row and put in a superb defensive shift but his all round game was very impressive too. There were a few significant steals and strong gain line carries which show he belongs at this level with room to improve even further. It was a debut to remember and one which leaves Joe Schmidt with a headache ahead of Australia. Could he leave Cian Healy on the bench?
Wasn’t it fantastic to see an Irish bench used to good effect? Joe Schmidt deserves great credit for that and his refreshingly honest post match analysis; something which his predecessor couldn’t manage.
Dave Kearney scored twice on debut, receiving a pass from his elder brother to score in the corner and adding a second after exchanging passes with Rob, Eoin Reddan and Ian Madigan down the blindside as Samoa fell away.
The introduction of O’Connell was greeted with a lefty roar, probably the loudest of the evening at a subdued Aviva, and he managed a solid half hour. Sean O’Brien took advantage of his earlier than anticipated arrival to score Ireland’s second after half time.
Eoin Reddan was keen to impress but some of his passing was sloppy as he tried to maintain a high tempo. Ian Madigan was used as a late centre replacement for O’Driscoll, and we could see him begin to feature here more often. Cronin, Fitzpatrick and Healy were brought on and maintained Irish dominance in the front row where Ireland look considerably stronger than they have in recent years.
By David Blair (@viscount_dave)
Photo by: Patrick Khachfe / Onside Images