Five things we have learned from Ireland's autumn international series

Ireland powered to a clean sweep of three victories in the November series, dispatching South Africa, edging past Fiji and overcoming Argentina.

Here are the key lessons from that autumn Test campaign.

1. Jacob Stockdale has emerged as a genuine Test star

Ulster wing Stockdale has long since been earmarked for international acclaim, but at 21 he is now delivering on that rich potential.

The powerhouse wing bagged two hugely-impressive tries as Ireland overwhelmed Argentina 28-19 at the Aviva Stadium on Saturday.

The incisive line he cut off Johnny Sexton for his second try underscores just why Joe Schmidt is such a fan of the Lisburn native: Ireland have desperately craved a power winger ready to go looking for work in midfield, and now they have it.

2. Encouraging starts for Chris Farrell and Bundee Aki boost Ireland's depth

Munster centre Farrell quickly shook off a piecemeal debut against Fiji by conjuring a fine showing in Saturday's Argentina clash.

The deftness of his no-look pass to Sexton that teed up the opening try against the Pumas highlighted hitherto unseen levels of dexterity and ingenuity in a man perhaps pigeon-holed as a bosh merchant.

Connacht's bruising centre Aki has coped admirably on his first forays into Test rugby too.

When the likes of Garry Ringrose and Robbie Henshaw return to full fitness, head coach Schmidt will have some interesting selection debates for the Six Nations.

3. Ireland's new styles of play underscore impressive training-ground drilling

Schmidt insists Ireland have always possessed the ability to play with width and pace during his tenure, but there is no escaping the fact he has expanded Ireland's attacking blueprint this autumn.

And rightly so, because the global trend has skewed so far towards the rapier not the bludgeon that without a razor-sharp running and passing game, top-level Test victories are extremely difficult to come by.

Ireland may not have two natural playmakers to pair at 10 and 12, but no problem - Schmidt has devised a savvy methodology of working Conor Murray into the fly-half channel and Sexton into the space between 12 and 13 once Ireland hit their phase-play stride.

Such variety is extremely difficult to defend against.

4. Rory Best remains the right choice as captain

Stalwart Ulster hooker Best just keeps on churning out the top-drawer performances at Test level, to belie his 35 years of age.

Standing out alone as Ireland's fourth most-capped Test star of all time now, Best has no intention of slowing down.

Schmidt has told the Banbridge man he will keep the armband until the end of the season and then Ireland will reassess the situation in the summer.

The likes of Peter O'Mahony and Johnny Sexton could so easily lead the side, but Best has an impressive demeanour when it comes to managing referees.

5. Prop Cian Healy is back to his brutal best

When Leinster star Healy suffered a nasty neck injury in 2014, his career could so easily have been finished there and then.

Though the bullish front-rower recovered to take his part in Ireland's 2015 World Cup campaign, it is only now that he feels back to his barnstorming best.

His scrummaging performance against Argentina underlined his raw power, at one point driving his opposite number clean off the ground, a feat that has become a rarity in the modern Test arena.

Jack McGrath's potency, coupled with Healy's resurgence and David Kilcoyne's strong form, leaves Ireland well stocked at loosehead.


KEYWORDS: Sport, Rugby, Ireland

 

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