By Rosie Foley
Ireland’s performance across the board during their autumn internationals was superb. Even though at times they were missing key players, the depth in their squad showed that it did not matter. With Luke McGrath and Kieron Marmion stepping up and replacing Conor Murray, who was out with a neck injury.
Their first game against Italy was hosted on somewhat neutral ground. Two years after their historic win against New Zealand, Ireland began there autumn internationals in style. Winning again at Soldiers Field, Chicago. Jordan Lamour played a starring role in the win. Starting his first test for Ireland, playing at Full-back, and scoring three of Ireland’s eight tries. Tadgh Beirne also crossed the line twice. Ireland coaches used this game to test their squad’s depth, playing all 23 players and having debuts from not only Jordan Lamour, but also Ross Byrne and Will Addison.
A week later and they were back home in the Aviva. The battle against Argentina was not easy. Ireland’s first half performance was scrappy with some silly errors. Although, tries from Kieran Marmion, Bundee Aki and Jonathon Sexton, gave Ireland a 15-14 lead at half time. The Pumas took back the lead after Sanchez’s fourth successful penalty, but Schmidt’s men ground it out during the last half-an-hour. With Luke McGrath crossing the line, followed up by a penalty from Sexton. However, there was a big loss to the Irish squad as Sean O’brien broke his forearm during his first international game back in 12 months.
The game everyone had been waiting for followed. Ireland against the All Blacks. On 17th November 2018 Ireland beat New Zealand at home for the first time ever. The men in green dug deep for the whole 80 minutes. Sexton kicked Ireland into the lead only 10 minutes in and just before half time, making it 9-6 to the hosts. Twice they were close to tries but denied, CJ Stander was held up under the posts and Rob Kearney was deprived by a slight knock on. Barrett kept Ireland on their toes with a penalty and drop goal, but the talent of Jacob Stockdale raised Ireland’s hope with a chip-and-chase try, 16-9. Ireland’s defence was tested in the second-half but the All Blacks could not break through. Peter O’Mahony got the well-deserved Man-of-the-match. However, all the Irish squad played outstandingly.
USA were Ireland’s final opponents of the Autumn series. A hat-trick from Andrew Conway confirmed Ireland’s second unbeaten autumn series with a 57-14 win over USA. Jack Conan, Tadgh Beirne, Stuart McCloskey, Quinn Roux and John Ryan also crossed the white wash. However, indiscipline was not good for Ireland with Iain Henderson sent to the bin for collapsing a tryline-bound USA maul. Nevertheless, in the second half Ireland redeemed themselves. Using their clear scrum dominance to create the points. John Ryan powered over the line for Ireland’s final try.
This autumn series for Ireland has been spectacular. Joe Schmidt has proved that he is a phenomenal coach and has said that he will leave Ireland after the 2019 World Cup. Handing the role over to Andy Farrell, who has proved himself as defence coach with the outrageous win against New Zealand. Schmidt believes that he is leaving Irish rugby in ‘good hands’.
At the World Rugby Awards in Monaco on the 25th of November, Ireland took home team of the year. With Sexton winning player of the year and Schmidt deservingly awarded coach of the year.
The big question on everyone’s minds is have Ireland peaked too early? Sexton seems to think not.
‘Teams try to peak for World Cup years. People ask have we peaked too soon? Well we haven’t peaked, so we’re just getting better and hopefully we can continue to do that.’