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Ulster duo Kieran Treadwell and Nick Timoney help Ireland flex their muscles against Maori All Blacks

Maori All Blacks 24  Ireland 30

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Ulster's Kieran Treadwell was to the fore for Ireland

Ulster's Kieran Treadwell was to the fore for Ireland

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Ulster's Kieran Treadwell was to the fore for Ireland

After Ireland’s Test side made history on Saturday, Andy Farrell’s midweek team were not to be outdone, securing their own significant victory on New Zealand soil.

The Maori’s late try in the 30-24 decision gave the impression of a game that was closer than it was. In truth, the Irish greater comfort was the product of a redemptive 80 minutes for this group.

When these sides met 13 days prior, Ireland’s limp performance with a somewhat thrown together side seemed a real indication that the tourists had bitten off more than they could chew.

Throw in the injury picture, especially up front, that emerged in the aftermath and there was no avoiding the notion that Ireland had stumbled from the blocks and a long road stretched ahead. 

Few would have predicted then that as the tourists enter the home straight of this mammoth trip, that they would be sitting with two wins from four games played. 

Ahead of the mouth-watering Test series decider back here in Wellington on Saturday, the second string did all that was asked of them to both maintain the momentum and give their head coach a few things to ponder ahead of his final selection of the season.

As skipper Keith Earls noted in his post-game television interview, this was “big boy rugby” and, even if they play no further part on the trip, those that put up their hand here will leave a lasting impression in Farrell’s mind.

Chief among them will have been Ulster’s Kieran Treadwell. 

Nobody has come from seemingly so far back to force their way into the international reckoning during this season and this has been a strong tour from the 26-year-old.

Never mind that prior to the Six Nations it had been 2017 since he last pulled on a green jersey, but one year ago, with Iain Henderson and Tadhg Beirne on Lions duty and James Ryan struggling with injury, he still wasn’t in the picture for what was a seriously diminished squad.

Fast forward to now and he has featured twice in a Six Nations and twice in Tests against the All Blacks. From the bench in the first Test 10 days ago, he really put himself about and his athleticism can act as a real point of difference when harnessed the right way. 

Admittedly between those two lots of recent caps he started just twice for Ulster, neither coming in his side’s four knockout games, but as we have seen with the case of Tom O’Toole and Marty Moore, Farrell does not necessarily assume that national and provincial pecking orders must be mirror images of one another. 

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Ireland ace Jordan Larmour crosses to score a try against the Maori All Blacks

Ireland ace Jordan Larmour crosses to score a try against the Maori All Blacks

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Ireland ace Jordan Larmour crosses to score a try against the Maori All Blacks

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The head coach has clearly identified something in Treadwell that he seeks on his replacement’s bench and if his selection from the start for yesterday morning’s game was an indication that perhaps a change was being mulled over for the weekend’s Test match, Treadwell’s performance will surely have given him pause for thought.

Ryan Baird remains an alternative, and the uncapped Joe McCarthy is highly touted, but it was Treadwell who pressed his case. If his showing against Leinster in the Champions Cup quarter-final of 2019 is usually viewed as a personal high water-mark, he was similarly impactful here.

Prominent in defence and making some good carries too, he produced one of the key moments of the game with a huge line-out steal that essentially led to Nick Timoney’s score that saw Ireland take control of proceedings. 

Indeed, Treadwell’s Ulster team-mate Timoney was another to impress here. Aside from his try, his presence at the breakdown was frequent with a few turnovers thrown in for good measure. 

Having played as an openside this season after Ulster’s signing of Duane Vermeulen, the back-rower has been stuck behind European Player of the Year Josh van der Flier in line for Ireland’s seven jersey but has surely made a positive impression nonetheless.

His back-row colleague Gavin Coombes, probably Ireland’s best player in the first Maori game, caught the eye again, scoring one close-range try and was perhaps unfortunate not to be awarded another when it seemed as if his stretch for the line had brushed the whitewash. 

Both Timoney and Coombes are likely fighting for the same bench spot, if not this week then moving forward, with Caelan Doris, Peter O’Mahony, Van der Flier and Jack Conan comprising the established match day quartet.

Elsewhere, from a not dissimilar position to Treadwell, Niall Scannell has forced his way back into the Test reckoning. The Munsterman hadn’t featured under Farrell but flew in from his holidays to ease the injury woes up front and has stood up well. His fellow Munster front-rower Jeremy Loughman, unfortunate to be injured in that first Maori match, was good too, while Ciaran Frawley was considerably improved in the 10 jersey.

If spreading the net was what Farrell wanted from these extra games, he’ll be a decidedly happier man than two weeks ago.


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