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24th Nov 2014

Six Ireland players who were bloody amazing during Ireland’s Guinness Series clean sweep

Keep these lads away from flammable objects and we will be flying in 2015

Patrick McCarry

When Joe Schmidt spoke (in November 2013) about building a squad of ’30 to 35 players’ he could call on to represent Ireland in the heat of battle, it seemed a fanciful notion

Reflecting on Ireland’s successful Guinness Series, hooker Rory Best told SportsJOE, ‘To beat two of the top teams is satisfying. Then we made a lot of changes and took a team like Georgia apart in the first-half – maybe it didn’t show in the score, but I think we got the rewards in the second-half from that.

‘So we have a lot of injuries, but we also played a lot of players in this autumn series and got three wins. We’re in a really good place.’

Schmidt used 33 players over the three Test matches in November, stretched the country’s winning streak to seven games and took Ireland to third in the world rankings. Here are the six Irish players we feel impressed the most this month.

Rob Kearney (Average SportsJOE rating 8.5)

The Leinster fullback was in superb form against South Africa and Australia. Gained 152 metres for Ireland on his 22 carries and constantly put opponents on the back-foot. He produced onne stunning break, including a spot of Springbok-hurdling, and was his typically solid self under the high ball. His drop goal attempt was almost one of those Irish sporting history moments.

Rob Kearney with Kurtley Beale and Israel Folau 22/11/2014

Paul O’Connell (7.5)

The Irish captain is a driving force up-front, immense in the line-out and both urges and directs one of the finest driving mauls in the game. Made tackles in the Springbok and Wallabies triumphs that had fans out of their seats. As an Australian colleague told me, ‘O’Connell was immense for you blokes; he’s got to be one of the best locks in world rugby. Long may he reign.’

Paul O'Connell after the game 22/11/2014

Tommy Bowe (7.5)

The Ulster winger needed a big Guinness Series after sitting out the Six Nations and the summer tour to Argentina. Quiet in the first half against South Africa but impressive in kick-chase and aerial duels. Beat Bryan Habana to Conor Murray’s chip to score a superb try and followed up with an intercept and 80-metre sprint to stun the Aussies. Chipped in with 10 big tackles over the two games.

Johnny Sexton (7)

Kicking out of hand was slightly off-colour but only missed once from the kicking tee. His break led to the opening for Tommy Bowe’s try against South Africa and, during that game, he tackled manfully. Missed a couple of tackles against Australia but set up Simon Zebo with a superb chip into the corner and held his place-kicking nerve in the second-half.

Rhys Ruddock (7)

Drafted in to face the world number two South Africans on the morning of the match, Ruddock scored a great try off a driving maul and tackled everything in a green jersey that moved. Over the two Tests Ruddock featured in, he connected with 28 tackles. If he could add a ball-carrying edge to his game, he could challenge Chris Henry and Sean O’Brien for the openside slot.

Tommy Bowe celebrates his try with Conor Murray, Rhys Ruddock, Richardt Strauss and Tommy O'Donnell 8/11/2014

Robbie Henshaw (7)

Similar to Bowe in that his series stuttered at the start and improved over the two games. Stood up well to huge centres like Jan Serfontein and Tevita Kuridrani, earned hard yards with carries and proved an astute, tactical kicker in both Tests against the Southern Hemisphere giants. His double-team tackle with O’Connell on Marcell Coetzee was one to remember.

Honourable mentions for Ian Madigan, who was our man-of-the-match against Georgia, two-try Felix Jones, genuine prospect Stuart Olding, loose-head Jack McGrath and replacement wrecking-ball Rodney Ah You.

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