The Ireland players that need to impress against Italy 1 week ago

The Ireland players that need to impress against Italy

Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt has named a largely experimental side to take on Italy in the first of four pre Rugby World Cup warm-up games.

Earlier this summer Schmidt named his 44-man training squad for this year's Rugby World Cup in Japan but he can only take 31 on the plane to the tournament.

It means that 13 players will miss out and it also means that some players will have limited opportunities to impress with Schmidt also needing to cater some time during the games for his first team regulars.

Ireland's Rugby World Cup opener starts with Scotland next month so Schmidt will need to find the right balance between experimentation for those on the fringes and live match reps for those that play a more central role in his plans.

Firstly, there's only really about five players named to start against Italy that are all but guaranteed a seat on the plane to Japan; Jack McGrath, Andrew Porter, Devin Toner, Joey Carbery and Garry Ringrose.

The number seems low, especially when you leave out the likes of Andrew Conway and Jordan Larmour, but when you run the numbers there's not as many opportunities as you'd think.

During the 2015 World Cup Schmidt took three hookers, five props, four locks, five backrowers, three scrum-halves, three fly-halves, four centres and four three-quarters.

If you lock down Ireland's regular starters of Rob Kearney, Jacob Stockdale and Keith Earls, there's realistically only one spot left on the bench for Conway or Larmour unless Schmidt changes the dynamics of his squad.

Maybe he takes just two fly-halves and uses a John Cooney for instance as a third-choice emergency fly-half but it would be a significant deviation from his 2015 structure.

Plus, Joey Carbery's broken arm last year, Johnny Sexton's propensity for injury and the All Blacks fly-half injury crisis in 2011 would also play on his mind here.

But Larmour and Conway aside, we'll start with Rob Herring in the front-row.

The Ulster hooker last played for Ireland in the November internationals last year in a mauling of the USA while his main rival for a seat on the plane, Niall Scannell, featured in two Six Nations matches.

You figure Scannell and Sean Cronin may start one game each, while captain Rory Best may also get one start before the tournament, but this could be one of Herring's only real chances to impress in a starting role.

He gave a good account of himself on last summer's tour of Australia but he'll need to have a big game if he is to leapfrog Scannell in the pecking order.

Jack McGrath

As for Jack McGrath and Andrew Porter, you'd fancy them to beat out David Kilcoyne and John Ryan only because they both gained more selections than the Munster duo in the Six Nations and have a chance to lay down a strong marker here in the first warm-up game.

Elsewhere all eyes will be on debutante Jean Kleyn. The Munster lock has the unenviable task of trying to usurp James Ryan, Tadhg Beirne, Iain Henderson and Devin Toner from the squad.

Second-row is arguably the most loaded position in the Irish squad but Kleyn showed last season that he can mix it with the best after playing 1575 minutes across 25 games for Munster.

He formed a powerful partnership with Beirne and at 6'8, 120 kilograms, he certainly has the size for international rugby. On Saturday we'll see if he has the skill and if there's enough of it to warrant a debate for a plane seat.

In the backrow Jordi Murphy, Rhys Ruddock and Tommy O'Donnell will realistically all be battling for places, even with the injury losses of Sean O'Brien and Dan Leavy.

You figure CJ Stander, Peter O'Mahony, Josh van der Flier and Jack Conan will all have seats on the plane given their involvement in the Six Nations effectively leaving one place between Murphy, Ruddock and O'Donnell.

The battle in the halves doesn't get much easier. Luke McGrath will start against Italy with Marmion to come off the bench.

The two are locked in a three-way battle with John Cooney to serve as Conor Murray's deputy and dividing three into two here will be one of the toughest calls Schmidt has to make with his selection.

Joey Carbery is effectively a lock at fly-half while it appears Jack Carty has continued to keep Ross Byrne away in the race for the final fly-half spot.

The centres get interesting with Farrell getting the first shot to impress Schmidt. Ringrose, Robbie Henshaw and Bundee Aki are guarantees if fit which leaves one spot between Rory Scannell and Chris Farrell.

Farrell has generally been preferred to Scannell over the last few seasons but his inclusion at 12 may indicate that it's a straight shootout between the two at that position with the Ulster man playing most of the season at 13 for Munster.

He will be favoured for the plane but it's by no means a done deal with Scannell providing a much different option at 12 compared to the other players available.

In the back three Dave Kearney will have to seriously impress to make a case ahead of Conway or Larmour. Neither of the aforementioned are guaranteed a place in the squad despite being two of the most dynamic players for Schmidt.

It's been nearly two years since Kearney featured for Ireland against Fiji in the 2017 November internationals and he'll have to have one of the games of his life to put himself in the reckoning for Japan given the competition around him.

Ireland should win comfortably at home against Italy with most of the squad having a point to prove as to why they should be included in one of the most competitive World Cup squads the IRFU have ever had.