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27th Aug 2023

Semi-finals or bust as Ireland name imperious Rugby World Cup squad

Rory Fleming

Ireland

There can be no excuses for what is undoubtedly the most talented Ireland squad of all time.

Andy Farrell has named his 33-man squad for the 2023 Rugby World Cup, in what is the last stepping stone before Ireland kick-off their tournament in Bordeaux against Romania in just under two weeks time.

There were no seismic omissions like in years gone by, although the likes of Connacht’s Cian Prendergast can feel disappointed to have made it so far, only to have fallen at the final hurdle.

Stuart McCloskey saw off the threat posed by Leinster’s Ciaran Frawley, despite a poor display in Bayonne against Samoa which saw the Ulster centre throw a loose intercept pass. His provincial teammate Jacob Stockdale was another who just missed out, with the Irish coaching ticket instead opting for the experience of centurion Keith Earls and the versatility of Jimmy O’Brien.

Other than that, it was pretty much as to be expected from Andy Farrell. Munster prop Jeremy Loughman was a late addition to the squad, following a serious calf injury sustained by veteran prop Cian Healy in a scrum against the Samoans.

IrelandIreland have named what is undoubtedly their strongest ever squad for a Rugby World Cup. (Credit: Sportsfile)

Ireland name their strongest ever World Cup squad:

Ireland’s 33-man squad is littered with players who have won everything there is to win in the game, barring the Webb Ellis Cup itself.

From Grand Slams, to European Cups and everything in between, this is a squad without the inferiority complex which has plagued Irish rugby’s previous heroes.

Gone are the days of revelling under the tag of the plucky underdog. This Ireland side has been ranked number one in the world for over a year now, and instead of buckling under the weight of expectation, it has only gone from strength to strength.

It also holds the unique distinction of having two former World Rugby player of the year winners in Leinster duo Johnny Sexton and Josh van der Flier, an inconceivable thought just a number of years ago.

Some may argue that Eddie O’Sullivan’s 2007 Ireland side contained a more star-studded roster, from the prime centre tandem of O’Driscoll and D’arcy, to the Munster metronomes at half back in Peter Stringer and Ronan O’Gara. There was even the looming figures of Paul O’Connell and Stephen Ferris up front.

However, remove one of those names from the starting XV and the house of cards came crumbling down around them. This Ireland squad contains a level of strength and depth not previously fathomable to Irish rugby fans. Even the hallowed boots of Johnny Sexton can be filled to a certain degree.

IrelandIt’s do or die for the legacy of this Ireland side at the Rugby World Cup. (Credit: Sportsfile)

Legacy on the line for Irish legends:

Despite having achieved all that can be over the span of their glittering provincial and international careers, should Ireland fail to finally break their quarter-final hoodoo at the autumn’s Rugby World Cup, then a looming asterisk must be placed next to this generation of stars.

Other Irish side’s before them have completed Grand Slams and historic series wins. What will set this cohort apart from those that went before them is to realise their greatness, and live up to expectations on the biggest stage of them all.

The stars of by-gone eras may have been some of the most talented players to have ever graced a rugby pitch, but when the conversation for greatest fly-half or second-row of all time emerges, they are almost immediately excluded having never been able to reach even a semi-final at best.

That is what is at stake for this Irish side. For the likes of Johnny Sexton and Peter O’Mahony, who head to what is surely their last World Cup, their legacy will undoubtedly be tarnished should they fail to live up to the nation’s justifiably lofty expectations.

France and New Zealand will pose challenges of epic proportions in any potential quarter-final matchup. But this Ireland side has defied the odds in Paris against the French before, and well and truly shaken off any fear of their southern hemisphere counterparts.

So, it is semi-finals or bust for this Irish side, and nothing less will do. It is time for the greatest Irish rugby squad ever assembled to hold their nerve, and advance to where no Irish team has gone before.

A chance at attaining rugby immortality awaits.

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