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Belfast Live
Michael Scully

Ireland's Grand Slam heroes rated across entire Six Nations and 'best' picks

MACK HANSEN 400 mins, 3 tries - 9 - Jinking, menacing performance at Murrayfield the highlight. Also excellent against France and England and scored a brace v Italy.

JAMES LOWE 400 mins, 3 tries - 9 - Spectacular if disputed try v Wales kicked off Ireland’s bid and impressed throughout. Booming kick a real weapon.

JAMES RYAN 400 mins, 1 try - 9 - Leader of the pack skippered Ireland in Rome and, despite three different starting second row partners, looked back to his best in this championship.

Read more: Andy Farrell’s side have claim to be Ireland’s greatest ever – Tommy Bowe

JOSH VAN DER FLIER 400 mins, 1 try - 8 - As you would expect, the reigning player of the year vied with James Ryan for top tackle count for the championship. Scored in Cardiff.

ANDREW PORTER 362 mins, 1 try - 6 - Indiscipline was a worrying issue for the hard-working converted loosehead in a number of games. Scored a five- pointer against Wales.

HUGO KEENAN 360 mins, 2 tries - 9 - Would have played every minute but for head injury v England. Highly effective as ever and scored outstanding tries against France and Italy.

CAELAN DORIS 337 mins - 9 - 18 tackles made v Wales set the tone. Picked at no 6 v Italy but otherwise so effective at no 8. One of Ireland’s top performers, if a little quiet v England.

PETER O’MAHONY 277 mins - 8 - Dominant 6N for the glue that holds this high quality back row together. Big display in Edinburgh and line-out prowess to the fore v England.

BUNDEE AKI 268 mins, 1 try - 7 - Big impacts off the bench v Wales and France, a try-scoring but overall shaky display at no 13 v Italy but much improved back at no 12 v Scotland and England.

JOHNNY SEXTON 259 mins, 35 points - 9 - Fittingly became the all-time 6N points scorer on his finale. Led the team for four of the five games. Bumped, bruised but triumphant.

STUART McCLOSKEY 198 mins - 7 - Started the first three games before Robbie Henshaw returned. Played well in Cardiff and against France but the midfield came unstuck v Italy.

CONOR MURRAY 195 mins - 8 - Wore the no.9 jersey in three games. Impressed after getting an 11th hour call to start in Cardiff. Brilliant try assist off bench v Italy.

JACK CONAN 192 mins, 1 try - 8 - Not at his best in his one start in Rome but was exceptional off the bench, particularly in his try-scoring effort v Scotland and against England.

DAN SHEEHAN 185 mins, 2 tries - 8 - Saved the best until last with two try salvo v England. Missed Italy game through injury and injured early on v Scotland but nailed down first choice hooker role.

GARRY RINGROSE 172 mins - 8 - Importance to this team felt through his absence against Italy and England in terms of his midfield defence. Makes so many tackles, and misses a few too.

FINLAY BEALHAM 158 mins - 8 - Involvement ended by a high tackle v Italy. Before that, prop was excellent as Furlong’s stand-in. The try assist against France was a highlight.

RYAN BAIRD 157 mins - 8 - Left out for the first two rounds, then really took his chance. Really impressed as a sub v Italy and v Scotland, then looked the part in his first 6N start v England.

RONAN KELLEHER 141 mins - 7 - Made an early return as a first half sub v France, started in Rome but was then the second hooker to suffer a shoulder injury v Scotland and it ended his campaign.

ROSS BYRNE 139 mins, 16 points - 7 - The out-half’s second coming worked out nicely. Assured off the bench v Wales, even more so for half an hour against France. First 6N start v Italy. Here to stay.

IAIN HENDERSON 137 mins - 6 - Was working his way back to full fitness with bench roles v Wales and France before starting against Italy, only to suffer a wrist fracture against Scotland.

TADHG FURLONG 124 mins - 6 - Was only available for the final two games and a tough ask for the Wexford man to start both after three months out. Found the going tough

CRAIG CASEY 105 mins - 7 - Brought real pace off the bench in the opening two rounds before making his first 6N start v Italy, but the return of Jamison Gibson-Park ended his involvement.

JAMISON GIBSON-PARK 100 mins - 7 - First choice scrum-half was only fit for the last two rounds after a hamstring injury. Zippy off the bench v Scotland and then played his part against England.

TADHG BEIRNE 99 mins - 7 - Was hitting his stride at lineout and at the breakdown when he suffered an ankle injury against France in round two that required surgery.

ROBBIE HENSHAW 94 mins, 1 try - 7 - Was a boost for Andy Farrell to have him back for the final two rounds after four months out. His reward for lasting the 80 v England was a vital try.

TOM O’TOOLE 90 mins - 8 - Didn’t start a game but made a massive impact. His 19 minute cameo against France was hugely memorable as he took the game to Les Bleus.

JIMMY O’BRIEN 49 mins - 7 - Made his 6N debut late on against Italy and then was called upon for a half and a few minutes more v England, filling in for Hugo Keenan at full-back.

ROB HERRING 42 mins, 1 try - 7 - So unlucky that after getting his start v France that a head injury sidelined him after 25 minutes. Bonus point try v England was some compensation.

CIAN HEALY 36 mins - 7 - The veteran’s Murrayfield introduction was one of most crucial moments. Playing the hooker’s scrum role meant Ireland didn’t have to go down to 14.

DAVE KILCOYNE 33 mins N/A - The Munster loosehead came on in the opening three games before Cian Healy’s return.

KIERAN TREADWELL 7 mins N/A - Initially left out of the squad, the second row got the final seven minutes v England.

JACK CROWLEY 2 mins N/A - Only saw action late on against Italy. His time will come.

Team of the tournament

15 H Keenan (Ire), 14 D Penaud (Fra), 13 G Ringrose (Ire). 12 S Tuipolutu (Sco), 11 J Lowe (Ire), 10 J Sexton (Ire), 9 A Dupont (Fra), 1 C Baille (Fra), 2 D Sheehan (Ire). 3 F Bealham (Ire), 4 T Flament (Fra), 5 J Ryan (Ire). 6 C Doris (Ire), 7 J Van der Flier (Ire) 8 G Alldritt (Fra)

Best match

Ireland 32-19 France: World’s top two sides met in Five/Six Nations for first time and more than delivered on their billing. Sensational game.

Ireland’s Johnny Sexton celebrates kicking a conversion (INPHO/Dan Sheridan)

Best try

Duhan van der Merwe’s solo stunner against England edges out Hugo Keenan’s brilliantly worked score against France and Damian Penaud’s thrilling reply against Ireland.

Best player

James Ryan (Ireland): Ireland have leaders now in all areas but one man can truly be called the leader of the pack, James Ryan. Towering in every way. Scotland’s Bath- bound maverick Finn Russellwas wasalso a joy to watch.

Best coach

Andy Farrell (Ireland): England got rid of him, then half-heartedly tried to get him back and, as with France’s Shaun Edwards, have lived to rue not recognising his worth. Farrell has done a wondrous job with Ireland. They are the envy of the rugby world. England are not.

Best quote

Joint winners. Finn Russell for :“I’m just doing my job out there, making other boys look good!” and Andy Farrell, in response to me asking if he fancied coming back to work in England: “Why would we leave? We love it here – the rugby’s pretty good as well."

Best moment

Johnny Sexton lifting his arms in triumph after firing over his third conversion between the posts against England. At that point, the Six Nations title and the Grand Slam was secure and everyone in the Aviva knew it. Magic.

What we learned...

That parachuting in new coaching teams a fortnight before the championship does not give you a ‘bounce’. England and Wales hoped Steve Borthwick and Warren Gatland would transform them overnight. They were wrong.


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