After three contrasting preseason international friendly performances and endless debate on the player inclusion and omission, Joe Schmidt has revealed the thirty-one man squad which he and Ireland hope will deliver the goods in RWC 2019. Hawkeye Sidekick views the squad selection.
Toner, Addison and Marmion omission
The main headline from this squad selection is these three omissions. I am surprised on the Toner omission personally given the endless line out issues without the towering Leinster Rugby second row. The work rate and mobility critiques are fair enough when you compare Toner with the likes of Beirne and Henderson but the set piece is going to be absolutely fundamental for Ireland in this tournament.
The line out is the primary source of attacking play for Ireland and Toner has been the primary line out caller with assistance from O’Mahoney and Henderson. The distinct lack of line out callers in the second row from
an Ireland perspective is now a big issue ahead of this World Cup; expect opponents to pepper Ireland’s lineout and put enormous pressure on Ireland set piece throws.
Rory Best, Niall Scannell and Sean Cronin must be prepared; the line out unit must be well drilled because this has the potential to fall apart at the seams without the reassurance and height of Toner. The Toner shoulder charge against Wales last weekend may been a deciding factor in this selection too; citing potentially and ban.
Will Addison came to the party late; he will be integral to Andy Farrell’s long term plan for Ireland. I thought Addison did as much as he could last weekend to merit inclusion but the significant injury layoffs last season and this preseason were key factors in his omission. Addison’s utility back line place goes to Andrew Conway who will not let the side down.
Chris Farrell wins a squad berth as well; his physicality in ball carrying and defensive solidity key attributes.
If there is a player who will feel absolutely sore on his omission, it will have to be Kieran Marmion. I am thinking back to the New Zealand game last November when Marmion rose to the occasion and provided a standout performance. His fast distribution, his ability to support ball carriers were seen to good effect with club and country but he has been overtaken in the last furlong by Luke McGrath; a safe choice. McGrath is controlled, executes the fundamentals well, would like to see more variation in his play but the decision to bring two scrum-halves is froth with danger given Conor Murray’s recent HIA woes. I would not be at all surprised if Marmion was out in Japan early in the tournament. Marmion is a fantastic player
and Ireland’s loss is Connacht’s gain in the Guinness Pro14 campaign.
The Welsh game last weekend was the last chance saloon for a couple of players to impress and on reflection, it looks like Kilcoyne, Ryan and Conway picked the right moment to impress. Kilcoyne’s cameo
left Schmidt with no choice but to bring to Japan and left Jack McGrath out in the process. John Ryan’s set piece is excellent; his scrummaging against Wales to the fore and if Joe Schmidt is looking for scrummaging dominance, then John Ryan and Andrew Porter provides squad competition in this regard.
Andrew Conway’s cameo last weekend was crucial in team selection; effectively a toss-up between him and Addison. Key line break in the opening period to setup Stockdale’s opening try against Wales. He should have had a try himself but for an overcooked pass from Carty. Jordan Larmour looked vulnerable but is on the plane given his dynamism in open play in the back field but the challenge has been set for the Leinster Rugby player to step up and push onto higher levels.
Rhys Ruddock inclusion is well merited; a powerful player and could be pivotal in key games against Scotland and potentially South Africa / New Zealand down the stretch.
The squad is solid on paper but there is a nagging concern on injuries to key personnel. A huge gamble has been taken on the likes of Sexton, Carbery and Earls with minimal game time in this preseason campaign. We need these players to be firing on all cylinders and until we see them in the flesh next weekend in Dublin (hopefully), then there will be big doubts. The two scrum-half option does not sit well. Murray and McGrath are going to be worked hard in the pool stages and that could lead to injuries.
It is that word ‘ hope’ that the injury concerns will come through preseason and be ready for Scotland but hope is not always reality.
This is a squad selection that is consistent in most part; the players who have performed for Schmidt in
this World Cup cycle get the nod. The omissions will be debated more now and whether the likes of
Donnacha Ryan could have entered the fray given the Toner absence. Schmidt may have missed a trick with Ryan. Yes, he is with Racing 92 but the player is performing at a high level; line out management par excellence.
The set piece for Ireland is crucial and this line out now looks vulnerable? Hopefully, Ireland can prove me wrong in this regard. The role of Jean Kleyn in this squad will be fascinating as the tournament progresses on, his sheer horsepower will be required at key moments. Watch this space!