Ireland Rugby World Cup Squad 2015 – Hawkeye Sidekicks’s Verdict

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Ireland Rugby World Cup Squad 2015

Tuesday, September 1st 2015. For the Ireland Rugby Union playing staff, their squad fate is already sealed but now it is released to the general public. Never has an IRFU email being so eagerly awaited since a coupon email getaway for rugby training gear in certain Ireland rugby player homes. The news is a bit like the leaving certificate; the results vary quite significantly. Some players have excelled themselves unexpectedly, some have done what they needed and some who were tipped for success wilted under the pressure of the rigorous exams. Hawkeye Sidekick looks at the squad selection and runs the rule over it.

Props: Cian Healy, Jack McGrath, Mike Ross, Nathan White, Tadhg Furlong.

The front row props are a hardy folk but I suspect tears of disappointment were shed in certain quarters of Limerick and Dublin. Cian Healy selection is a gamble at this time but given his skill and potential contribution to Ireland in set piece and open play against France had to be brought. His fitness (lack of) means that the Ireland rugby public need to trust Schmidt on this call but if Healy is not at full tilt in the group stages, the media hordes will be swooping like vultures for management. McGrath even though was penalized against Wales (sometimes unfairly) is fully deserving of his squad berth and will be crucial in the opening pool games against Georgia and Canada. Ross was the lock for the props. His performances for Ireland in the scrum since his emergence to the international scene have being excellent. The first three selections leave little doubt but the last two inclusions will raise questions in terms of potential Leinster bias in squad selection. Nathan White and Tadhg Furlong’s inclusion cannot be have being sealed in recent warm-up games. White was solid yet unspectacular against Wales last weekend and you could not judge Furlong last weekend considering the short game minutes he got. The question mark on White is his dynamism in open play? He is a tough scrum operator but doubts remain on his ability with ball in hand. Furlong is the gamble of this tournament, questionable scrummaging technique was exposed in the Guinness Pro 12 last season. His ball carrying is excellent, suspect Furlong to get game minutes against England and Georgia but will then be used sparingly thereafter. The unlucky front row prop not named in the squad would have to Munster’s Dave Kilcoyne. I am not sure what more the UL Bohemians man could have done to secure a squad place. His warmup performances were excellent, dynamic ball carrying and his scrummaging was not exposed. Marty Moore’s foot injury put paid to his squad berth but do not be surprised if he joins the squad later in this tournament. Michael Bent, once heralded as Ireland front row savior tried hard but he was well down the depth chart. The player who perhaps should have had a trial game was Stephen Archer who performed well towards the back end of the season. However the Clermont cup ties will not have gone unnoticed. This position all hinges on Cian Healy. If recovered from injury, Ireland will have the platform. Otherwise,it does not bear thinking about. White and Furlong’s association with the Joe Schmidt Leinster setup won their spots.

Hookers: Rory Best, Sean Cronin, Richardt Strauss.

Not much debate on these positions. Rory Best is the number one in this position. His scrummaging and all round open play cannot be faulted. Sean Cronin was the highlight on an otherwise disappointing season for Leinster and will serve admirably as backup to Best. Strauss will be provided game time early in the tournament. His recent concussion record hopefully will not strike during the tournament. Strauss needs to play a big part in the opening games so as to provide Best and Cronin with the time and recuperation required to compete against the likes of France towards the latter end of the pool phrase. You would wonder if Schmidt would call up another hooker if injury befalls one of three chosen players. Solid look to this position.

Locks: Paul O’Connell, Devin Toner, Iain Henderson, Donnacha Ryan.

No real complaints either on these decisions. Ryan selection is based on his flexibility to switch to the back row if required. The major talking point here is whether Schmidt decides to retain Toner as O’Connell’s partner or does he go on form and includes the impressive Ian Henderson who was superb against Wales. Henderson has to play in the crunch games. His dynamism, lineout presence and overall work rate around the park poses opposition packs with a significant problem. His pace for the position is frightening. Toner did little in the warm-up games and the number four position during the tournament will be closely watched. Dan Tuohy pays for an ineffective performance against Scotland last month. His reputation for conceding penalties perhaps was also a factor. Strong unit here and the lineout should fire well.

Back rows: Jamie Heaslip, Sean O’Brien, Peter O’Mahony, Chris Henry, Jordi Murphy.

The conundrum would have being if Tommy O’Donnell had not being injured in the warmup game series. His performance against Wales was excellent and would have pushed Murphy’s inclusion who after a decent start was exposed badly in breakdown exchanges by Wales last weekend. Murphy will be pivotal in the opening games along with Chris Henry who has made a superb recovery from his stroke last year. Both Murphy and Henry provide energy and work rate around the park. Henry’s tackling and work in the breakdown where he is an abrasive figure could be crucial in the latter stages of the pool phrase. I expect Henry to get game time against France. Heaslip, O’Brien and O’Mahoney will be our first choice back row. O’Mahoney will be asked to work tirelessly in the murky depths of the breakdown, slow down ball and attempt when the opportunity presents itself to steal ball. O’Brien line speed with ball in hand is a huge plus for Ireland and Heaslip all round management of the pack and ability to win the gain line battle with lung bursting ball carries bodes well for Ireland in this tournament.

Scrum-halves: Conor Murray, Eoin Reddan.

Only two scrum halves make the trip for this tournament and I have to applaud Schmidt for the call. Boss adds little to what is being brought. His performance against Scotland (albeit the pack did not create a sufficient platform) cost Boss his squad berth. Madigan will be an ably deputy as third choice scrum half. Murray’s reputation as one of the top scrum halves should be further enhanced in this tournament. There are no genuine weaknesses in his game, kicks well (both out of hand and can hit penalties), game manages superbly and his physical presence provides assurance for Ireland during the set piece. Reddan will play the opening games. Reddan is at his best when he uncomplicates his games, quick distribution from the ruck is required. Madigan’s cameo will be more cosmetic than anything else and also opens a game in the back line. If Murray were to get injured, Ireland are in a bind. Boss may play no part in this tournament as Connacht’s Kieran Marmion is playing well evident in his two try cameo against Munster during pre-season at Thomond Park.

Out-halves: Johnny Sexton, Paddy Jackson

In Sexton we trust. This position is down to one man and one man only. Johnny Sexton cannot get injured for Ireland, otherwise the tournament is as good as over for Ireland. Sexton’s game management and ability to spot opposition back line weakness (aerial kicks) to the wing are well lauded. Jackson is frustrating to watch. One step forward, two steps back at this time. Excellent start to the warmup games but against Wales last weekend put the spotlight back on his game management skills. Madigan potentially may get more game time than Jackson during this tournament and it is more to do with the worrying cameo against Wales than anything else. No other genuine contenders for this position. Keatley crumbled during the Guinness Pro 12 playoffs. Hanrahan is a long term project.

Centres: Robbie Henshaw, Darren Cave, Jared Payne

Henshaw was always destined for the squad. His lack of game time in the warmup games along with established stars Murray, Sexton, O’Connell spoke that he is a vital cog in the squad. Henshaw’s defensive qualities are excellent. His ability with ball in hand internationally are yet to be seen in full effect but will come in time. His partnership with Payne offensively was hit and miss last season but hit a massive high during the Scotland 6N Championship victory at Murrayfield. Payne’s transition to thirteen has to be applauded. A difficult task to succeed Brian O’Driscoll but the Ulster player has progressed steadily in his appearances at the position. The hope is that the partnership can gain confidence in the opening pool games and hopefully provide Ireland a platform with ball in hand. Cave’s inclusion is well merited, had an excellent season with Ulster. His work rate, tackling and ability to beat his opponent with ball in hand are welcome additions to this position. His try scoring rate is also good. I would have liked Stuart McCloskey to get some game time during the warm-up games. The player is a massive physical specimen and his ball carrying ability is superb but we will have to wait for the 2016 6N tournament to find if that is the case.

Outside backs: Rob Kearney, Tommy Bowe, Simon Zebo, Dave Kearney, Ian Madigan, Keith Earls, Luke Fitzgerald.

Dave Kearney is rewarded for impressive cameos against Scotland and Wales and sneaks in ahead of the unfortunate Andrew Trimble. I thought Keith Earls had blown his chance after the Wales warm-up game last weekend. He was starved of quality ball to attack and his only opportunity (when Sexton kicked to the corner) in the opening half, he knocked on. Earls’ withdrawal from the game due to suspected concussion appeared to count him out but Ireland management realize that Earls is poignant when presented with try scoring opportunities. His defensive work in recent weeks was excellent, something which many critics of the Limerick man have leveled on him. Earls will not let the side down. Zebo could have being the fall guy in this squad selection if not for a formidable full back performance against Scotland. Ireland management asked the Cork man to show his flexibility at full back during this contest and he produced in spades. I wonder if the performance was less than stellar, would Zebo be on the plane to the RWC tournament? Bowe’s reputation as Ireland leading wing player of recent years guaranteed him his spot in the squad. Aerially strong and clinical when presented with a try scoring opportunity, the Monaghan man could not have being omitted. Trimble is probably the most unlucky of the players to miss out. Earls and Luke Fitzgerald’s cameos last weekend opened the door for Trimble but Ireland management have thought differently. Rob Kearney was the probably one of the first names in the squad roster. His full back prowess makes him stand out from the rest of the squad. Madigan could play more than three positions in this tournament. The definition of utility player. Game time will not be an issue for the Leinster player.

Few surprises apart from the front row prop situation. Furlong’s inclusion is a risk considering the fitness of Cian Healy at this time. Furlong potentially will be an excellent front-row but his scrummaging techniques worries me. Trimble will be gutted, his cameo against Wales at the Millennium Stadium was superb. It is ironic that his bone crushing tackle which setup Earls’ try in this contest cost him his place in the tournament. Fine margins and we have not kicked a ball in anger. Ireland’s squad is now set, time for the players to produce and justify their squad selection. Otherwise, TV3’s Sinead Kissane will be loading up with questions.