Tadhg Beirne edges out pack-mates to claim Ireland's Best Player of 2021
"You always have to prepare for those moments."
Following Ireland's 53-7 victory over Argentina, Andy Farrell shook his head and smiled when asked about Tadhg Beirne.
Ireland's match preparations were thrown into disarray when Jack Conan and then Iain Henderson got ruled out of the match, leading to two players getting summoned back to the squad and three positional switches.
"To give you an example of today," Farrell explained, "Tadhg Beirne is covering second row, and then 6, 7, and 8 this morning. All of a sudden, he's back [starting in the] second row and he's not called lineouts all week. Yet he was calling lineouts today as well today and our lineout was 100% for the first time in quite some time. It just shows that the way that these lads are coming in."
"I did the work during the week and I was just excited to get out there," Beirne said, after the match. "Then there is another spanner in the works when James Ryan went down with a HIA and I went from 4 to 5. A lot of shifting but I think everyone dealt with that really well."
When it comes to our end-of-year assessment of the Ireland squad, Beirne features right at the top of the tree, but there is plenty of competition for Ireland's best player of 2021.
On the latest House of Rugby URC episode [LISTEN from 2:30 below] former Ireland forward Mike McCarthy joined hosts Greg O'Shea and Megan Williams to look back on Ireland's Test year and ahead to the 2022 Six Nations.
IRELAND'S BEST PLAYER OF 2021
Ireland have player 10 Test matches this year and won eight of them. They were quickly out of Six Nations contention by losing their first two games, but finished strongly and kept the momentum through winning summer and autumn series.
We have covered all 10 games extensively and have handed out player ratings for each. In assessing Ireland's best player of 2021, we have used those ratings, an overall look at where this squad stands and that vital eye-test of seeing these guys up close and personal.
Before we get to the main accolade, a reminder that Tadhg Beirne pipped Iain Henderson and Robbie Henshaw to our 'Player of the Six Nations' nod.
IRELAND'S BEST PLAYER - Tadhg Beirne
The Munster forward played eight Tests, mostly in the second row but at blindside too, and was consistently effective in seven of them. The only off-day he had was against France, and he was not the only one. The only player that featured in over five Tests to average over 8/10. Even when he was not starting, against New Zealand, he made a 25 minute outing off the bench and was excellent - securing three turnovers. All that and he made two Test appearances for the British & Irish Lions.
BEST OF THE REST - Iain Henderson and Tadhg Furlong
Fantastic year in green for Iain Henderson, and a deserved second Lions Tour during the summer. While Warren Gatland did not use him as much as he should, Henderson was at his very best for Ireland. Steady as a rock in the Six Nations and only loses out to Beirne as he was not fully match-fit this month and missed the Argentina game. Tadhg Furlong proved he was back with a bang as the Six Nations progressed, backed it up for the Lions then was superb against New Zealand and Argentina.
What a tackle by Furlong 😵pic.twitter.com/mYUt0xAyU8
— SportsJOE (@SportsJOEdotie) November 21, 2021
SOLID YEAR'S WORK - Robbie Henshaw, Johnny Sexton, Andrew Porter & Hugo Keenan
Just one step down on the ladder, but years to be pretty pleased with. Henshaw was one of Ireland's best players in the Six Nations and made the Lions Tour, but only returned from it - in a playing sense - against Argentina, on Sunday. Keenan continues to impress at fullback and was on the money against England and the All Blacks.
Sexton makes this Ireland team tick like no other outhalf. If you get 60 minutes out of Sexton at his best, you stand a great chance of winning. Andrew Porter started the year as a tighthead and finishes it as a loosehead. He has been a force to be reckoned with, no matter what side of the front row you find him packing down.
Will Connors was very good in the Six Nations but got injured before the England game and is only now nearing his return. Ronán Kelleher is our new starting hooker, no doubt about it. An up-and-down Six Nations followed by a great summer, a Lions call-up and a brilliant November. Bundee Aki certainly shut me up against Japan and New Zealand, while Joey Carbery has got others to put a cork in it for a while.
Jack Conan backed up his Lions form this month, Garry Ringrose and Josh van der Flier finished the year strongly after fitness issues cost them Lions spots, while James Lowe is back with a bang.