Talking Points: Ireland's summer test series defeat to South Africa

Despite losing the series, there were plenty of positives to take from Ireland's tour of South Africa

Talking Points: Ireland's summer test series defeat to South Africa

©INPHO/Billy Stickland 

Ireland summer test series ended in disappointment after an agonising defeat to South Africa in Port Elizabeth today, and below we look back on some of the talking points from the series. 

Toner comes of age

Devastated by the loss of his father prior to the tour, Devin Toner managed to put his personal tragedy behind him to deliver his most accomplished performances in an Irish jersey to date.

Picking up the man of the Match accolade in the first test, the Leinster lock carried that form into the following two games, producing incredibly industrious performances in Port Elizabeth and on the Highveld.

Obviously he remains key to Joe Schmidt's plan as the fulcrum on which the set pieces operate, but following the loss of Paul O'Connell from the Irish set-up, Toner has stepped up to be a leader in the pack, helping to soften the blow of losing the Munster icon. 

Ireland’s Devin Toner is Man of the Match
Mandatory Credit ©INPHO/Billy Stickland

Going forward, expect to see Toner shoulder further responsibility as he aids the development of the promising and youthful locks breaking through to senior set-up, while also fighting for his place in what will become one of Ireland's most competitive positions. 

Further international class depth added to the squad 

The tour provided a perfect opportunity to blood some new players to the test scene and add some further caps to the fledgling careers of a number of Irish prospects. 

Paddy Jackson excelled deputising for Johnny Sexton, finally producing his domestic form on the international stage, particularly in the first two tests. 

Stuart Olding was excellent in the 12 jersey during the third test, finally putting a torrid time with injuries behind him, while his Ulster team mate Luke Marshall has put his hand up for serious selection in the future. 

Ireland's Luke Marshall
Mandatory Credit ©INPHO/Billy Stickland

Tiernan O'Halloran's was given little time to shine in the 15 jersey but he looked more than comfortable during his time on the pitch while fellow Pro12 Champions Quinn Roux and Ultan Dillane showed their explosiveness when given the chance. 

Despite difficulties today against perhaps the finest scrummager in the world, Tadhg Furlong will only grow from the experience as he continues his development under Mike Ross. 

Payne at 15 a success

Its been no secret that Irish fans have wanted to see naturalised Kiwi Jared Payne take the 15 jersey for Ireland for some time now, but Schmidt remained reluctant to shift the Ulsterman from the 13 jersey, where he is the lynchpin of the outside defence. 

However, injury forced the Irish coach's hand and we finally got to see what all the fuss was about, as Payne put in two excellent performances in his new position, showing his attacking flair going forward in the first test with some slick handling.

Despite being bowled over by giant wing Ruan Combrinck, Payne was a convincing figure in defence for Ireland at full-back making vital interventions over the course of the two games he played in, perhaps none more so than the last ditch intervention on JP Pietersen at the end of the first test, securing Ireland's first victory in South Africa.

Jared Payne scores a try
Mandatory Credit ©INPHO/Billy Stickland

Looking ahead to the future and its probable that Payne will resume his outside centre channel, but after what can only be considered a successful transition it is highly likely we will see him perform the role again in which Ireland lack international class depth. 

Tour of missed chances

What will surely frustrate the Irish players and coaching staff is that South Africa were there for the taking. 

A pulsating win in Cape Town was followed up by an excellent 40 minutes of rugby in Johannesburg from the tourists, were they pummelled the Boks in their own back yard.

However, they fell victim to a stunning comeback from the home side as fatigue began to set in at altitude, while today they found a small number of chinks but lacked the cutting edge to ruthlessly punish their hosts.

The general feeling after the second test was that it was the one that got away from Ireland, and after today's performance, that opinion is unlikely to have changed.  

North/ South divide isn't as wide as we thought

The post-mortem of the World Cup saw many hit the panic button as the Southern Hemisphere nations dominated the competition in England. 

However, eight months on and the divide isn't as large as we once thought, with Ireland narrowly missing out on a test win in South Africa and Eddie Jones' England whitewashing Australia in an emphatic manner, hope is not lost for Northern Hemisphere rugby. 

England team members celebrate winning their rugby union test series against Australia in Sydney. Rick Rycroft / AP/Press Association Images

Of course the summer test series are a different animal to a World Cup, but these games still carry intensity levels unknown to other sports as ranking places and pride are up for grabs. 

We may have a better look at the true gap in quality when the Southern Hemisphere sides come to Europe in November.