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05th Sep 2023

The three key selection headaches facing Andy Farrell ahead of World Cup opener

Rory Fleming

Andy Farrell

Ireland face Romania in the same city as their infamous 2007 slip-up against Georgia.

After four long years, the Rugby World Cup is finally upon us once again, with Andy Farrell’s Ireland side heading into the tournament on top of the world already, at least according to the rankings.

Years of meticulous planning and preparation will all boil down to eight weeks of Test rugby, with Ireland’s quest to achieve rugby immortality beginning this Saturday against Romania in Bordeaux.

The French city has played host to Irish World Cup hopes before, but Ireland fans will have fraught memories of that occasion back in 2007, when lowly Georgia fell just one score shy of completing the tournament’s all-time biggest shock.

With a near-injury free squad to choose from, along with having rested the majority of frontline players for Ireland’s uninspiring victory over Samoa a fortnight ago, Andy Farrell is expected to select a first-string side as he looks to avoid a repeat of Ireland’s previous encounter in Bordeaux.

The Irish pack virtually picks itself, with the partnering of James Ryan by either Tadhg Beirne or Iain Henderson the only potential selection debate. However, in the backline, there are a number of selection headaches awaiting the Irish coaching ticket.

Andy FarrellShould Sexton be risked against Romania or does he need to build up match fitness following his suspension. (Credit: Sportsfile)

Andy Farrell’s three selection headaches:

1. Fly-half – Johnny Sexton v Jack Crowley:

Unlike the other two selection dilemmas on this list, there is no arguing who the better player is. The question around fly-half is whether or not Sexton should be risked ahead of the Springboks and Scotland games later on in the group, or does he have to start against Romania to find some match sharpness following his lengthy absence through suspension. Crowley was one of the few who shone for Ireland against Samoa, and may get the nod if Ireland opt to ease Sexton back into action with a cameo role from the bench.

2. Scrum-half – Jamison Gibson-Park v Conor Murray:

Conor Murray has been Ireland’s forgotten man over the last number of Test windows, with Jamison Gibson-Park firmly establishing himself as Andy Farrell’s first-choice. However, a superb end to the season with Munster alongside a rolling back the years style of performance against Samoa has seen the question of who should marshal the Irish pack rear its head once again.

3. Inside centre – Robbie Henshaw v Bundee Aki:

Perhaps the trickiest selection of all, Henshaw and Aki are set to battle it out for the chance to partner Garry Ringrose who will surely start at outside centre. Henshaw has gotten the nod in crucial games before, with his provincial relationship with Ringrose an added advantage. Although Aki delivered a near-flawless display in Ireland’s dismantling of England at the Aviva Stadium last month, and his abrasiveness may be favoured against what will be a physically challenging Romania side.

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