Here are the 31 players Rugby World thinks Joe Schmidt should pick in his World Cup squad
There might be a few raised eyebrows with this 31-man squad as there are a few injury risks but here at Rugby World we think it’s an exciting squad full of talent and flair that could excel under Joe Schmidt at the World Cup…
Mike Ross – Ireland’s rock at tighthead since 2011, he’s started all of Joe Schmidt’s Tests as coach bar this weekend’s one against Wales. Coming up against the big packs of Italy and France in their pool, Ireland need Ross to hold things steady to get the back-line decent ball.
Cian Healy – Given that he’s not played since having neck surgery in early May, picking him is a risk, but a risk worth taking. Not only is he solid at the set-piece, showing great strength on the loosehead side of the scrum, he is a dynamo in the loose, displaying skills you rarely see in a front-rower.
Jack McGrath – The 25-year-old, who made his debut against Samoa in 2013, has stepped in impressively at loosehead during Healy’s recent absences with injury and will be an able deputy at the World Cup. Or could start the early games as Healy works his way back to fitness.
Nathan White – Quality back-up for Mike Ross has long been a worry for Ireland but the New Zealand-born tighthead, who qualifies on residency, could be the answer. Injuries delayed White’s Test debut until this month but the fact that Joe Schmidt has stuck with him shows how highly he is regarded by the coaching team.
Marty Moore – This is on the proviso that he is fit and could be seen as another risk for he has never started a Test, but the 24-year-old has progressed well at Leinster alongside Jack McGrath. Scrummaging is going to be crucial in Pool D and that’s where Moore has an edge over Michael Bent.
Rory Best – Experienced, tireless work ethic, leadership skills, set-piece accuracy – these are just a few of the qualities that make Best Ireland’s first-choice hooker. He had a dip in form leading up to the Lions tour but that now looks to have been a mere blip as he has been back to his best in 2015.
Sean Cronin – He won’t necessarily take this as a compliment but Cronin is the perfect bench player and as such 36 of his 44 caps have come as a replacement. The energy, pace and skills he shows with ball in hand – he’s a ball of energy – mean he can take advantage of tired bodies late in games.
Richardt Strauss – Having recovered from heart surgery in 2013, Strauss is now back in the Test mix and provides a good balance of set-piece nous and hard running in the loose. His South African roots also mean he brings a lot of physicality.
Paul O’Connell – What can we say about the iconic Ireland captain that hasn’t already been said? Intelligent, lineout savvy and able to inspire both with word and deed, he has also been delivering consistently high performances since returning from a long-term groin injury in 2013. Quite incredible for someone nearing their 36th birthday.
Iain Henderson – The Ulsterman can cover blindside as well as lock and has continually impressed Ireland’s coaches with his athleticism. At 6ft 6in and 19st, he’s a big unit but covers the ground with ease, complementing a power game with soft handling skills. We’d pick him to start the big games against France and Italy alongside O’Connell.
Devin Toner – The tallest of Ireland’s locks at 6ft 10in, Toner excels at lineout time, disrupting opponents’ throws as well as winning his own team’s. He’s not as powerful as the other locks but is still difficult to bring down with ball in hand and gets through a lot of work in the tight.
Donnacha Ryan – There were fears that Ryan was going to have to retire after ongoing knee and toe injuries kept him out of action over the past couple of years – the match with Wales earlier this month was his first Test since March 2013. Now he’s back to full fitness and brings an uncompromising edge to the engine room.
Jamie Heaslip – The No 8 was deemed surplus to requirements for the 2007 World Cup but has been Ireland’s first pick in the position ever since. One of the team’s strongest ball-carriers, he is also part of their leadership group, has great offloading skills, is disruptive at the ruck and can read a game well.
Sean O’Brien – A star of the 2011 World Cup with teams unable to stop him gaining metres with the ball. The farming gene has clearly given him a natural strength, which he also puts to good use in the tackle, be that standard hits or the choke, and at the breakdown, where he has a decent turnover rate.
Peter O’Mahony – The workhorse of the Ireland back row prides himself on defence. He’s been described as “Ireland’s hard man” and many an opponent could confirm that given his propensity to make big hits while he’s also been known to win a few turnovers. The team’s first-choice blindside – and tipped to be a future Ireland captain.
Chris Henry – Another Irishman who’s undergone heart surgery, this time only late last year, Henry has proved his fitness over the past couple of months with all-action displays for Ulster in the Pro12 run-in and for Ireland in their first two warm-up games. Eighteen caps by the age of 30 is not a huge return, but he offers a hard-nosed, scavenging option in the back row.
Jordi Murphy – The 24-year-old, who was born in Spain, has the ability to play both at flanker and No 8 – a versatility that has seen him win seven of his 11 caps from the bench. A nuisance at the breakdown, he relishes clearing out rucks and trying to disrupt opposition ball, and is a solid tackler.
Conor Murray – He’s been on the up ever since the 2013 Lions tour, which seemed to give him the confidence to impose himself on games. A strong runner, he also has a good array of kicks at his disposal, spots opportunities and has developed a forcible half-back pairing with Johnny Sexton. Ireland’s number one No 9.
Eoin Reddan – Another nine who has strong understanding with Johnny Sexton, Reddan is 34 but still proves to be a livewire from the base of the scrum. He has the ability to put pace on a game with the speed of his service and while he’s unlikely to dislodge Conor Murray from the No 9 shirt he should provide a spark from the bench.
Kieran Marmion – Don’t mistake this pick as a token effort to include another Connacht player. The 23-year-old is an exciting talent who is destined for big things in the green of Ireland. With only four caps, all off the bench, he doesn’t have the experience of Isaac Boss but his attacking intent gets him the nod.
Johnny Sexton – A pinpoint kicker, both from the tee and out of hand, a fine distributor with an eye for a gap and an astute game manager, Sexton has got it all. His ability to make the right decisions at the right time and mix his game up is what makes him stand out as one of the world’s best.
Ian Madigan – Have you ever seen a more perfect cross-field kick than the one Madigan sent Luke Fitzgerald’s way against Scotland earlier this month? The winger didn’t even need to break stride as he collected the ball and ran across the line. He may not be as steady an influence as Paddy Jackson, but he has the flair to trouble opponents.
Robbie Henshaw – The 22-year-old has fast become a key member of this Ireland team. Tipped as the man to fill Brian O’Driscoll’s boots, he’s actually become a mainstay at inside-centre and has done all that’s been asked of him in the position. His size makes him an imposing figure in midfield in defence and attack.
Jared Payne – The New Zealand-born Ulster player has been the regular wearer of the No 13 shirt since BOD retired, earmarked by Joe Schmidt for the position before he’d qualified on residency. His experience at full-back means he brings a solidity in defence while he’s also a sharp reader of the game.
Keith Earls – Forty caps in eight years demonstrates Earls’s injury-disrupted career. Running out against Wales on 8 August marked his first Test in 29 months, but he looks in good shape. He’s always been a dangerous runner, whether at centre or wing, and has the ability to unpick defences.
Luke Fitzgerald – Another who’s had a bad run of injuries (30 caps in nine years), Fitzgerald has long been a favourite of Joe Schmidt’s and his versatility is perfect for a World Cup squad. He’s played Tests at wing and full-back, but has always preferred centre. We think a partnership of Henshaw and Fitzgerald at 12 and 13 for Ireland could prove fruitful at the World Cup.
Rob Kearney – The obvious choice at full-back, Kearney is the archetypal ‘safe pair of hands’ under the high ball, has a booming boot (remember that 50m drop-goal he slotted for Leinster against Clermont in 2012?) and recognises when to take an opportunity when counter-attacking from deep.
Tommy Bowe – As Ireland’s third highest try-scorer of all time with 28, Bowe’s finishing ability is obvious. The wing brings a wealth of experience, having played international rugby for more than a decade. After missing out on RWC 2007, he developed his all-round game at the Ospreys and is still a danger man out wide. He can also cover outside-centre and full-back.
Andrew Trimble – He was the star performer for Ireland in 2013-14 but then a troublesome toe injury sidelined him last season. He lasted less than 40 minutes against Wales earlier this month but his juddering hit on Eli Walker was one of the highlights of the match. He’s playing for Ulster this weekend and if he proves his fitness he should make the cut.
Simon Zebo – He may be seen as something of a romantic choice and Joe Schmidt hasn’t always been a fan because the Munster wing/full-back is known for playing off the cuff. Still, he has tightened up his game and shown he can be more consistent in defence, while he has the speed and footwork to worry opposition defenders.
Craig Gilroy – As Stuart Lancaster would say, Gilroy has a ‘point of difference’. With a smaller frame than the other wing options, he has a slightly different skill-set. It’s his pace and sidestepping ability that really stands out, and he could prosper in a World Cup environment.