Eight Ireland players make final cut in 'World Class' 33-man squad selection
The increase from three to eight shows how Irish fortunes have improved in the past two years.
Ireland and France are the number one and two side in the world, right now, but The Rugby Championship may shake up the World Rugby rankings. In the latest, extensive 'World Class' selection France and Ireland share 16 of the squad places.
For the past four years, Simon Gleave has been using a mix of data, impact on games and reaching out for input from rugby supporters to assemble a world-class squad. The first squad was selected in 2019, after the Six Nations, and had four Irish players. A year later, after the World Cup, there were only three:
- Tadhg Furlong
- Cian Healy
- Johnny Sexton
Going off the premise of selecting a World Cup style squad - now expanded from 31 to 33 - the Gracenote analyst looked at the data and put forward nominees for his thousands of followers to vote on.
The make-up of the squad is such: Looseheads (x3), Hookers (x3), Tightheads (x3), Locks (x4), Back rows (x5), Scrum-halves (x3), Out-halves (x3), Centres (x4), Back three (x5).
Over the past few weeks, the nominees were compiled, announced and the votes tallied. Ireland now have right inclusions, level with France while reigning world champions South Africa are down to seven [from nine, last year].
Northern Hemisphere players dominated World Class '33'
The hemisphere split for the 33-man selection is 20:13 in favour of the north. There are no Scots or Welsh players included, with England, Ireland and France getting 20 selections between them.
The Boks have seven players included while four All Blacks, one Wallaby - Samu Kerevi - and one Argentinean - Julian Montoya - make the final cut.
England may have had an underwhelming 2022 Six Nations, losing three of their five matches, but their 2-1 Test Series win over Australia and the form of a cohort of talented players see them claim a decent representation.
This is only the third iteration of Gleave's 'World Class' selection, but Ireland have achieved their best ever tally, with Johnny Sexton and Tadhg Furlong included again, making it all three times they have made the cut.
WORLD CLASS 33
LOOSEHEAD: Ellis Genge (England), Cyrill Baille (France), Steven Kitshoff (South Africa)
HOOKER: Julien Marchand (France), Julian Montoya (Argentina), Malcolm Marx (South Africa)
TIGHTHEAD: Tadhg Furlong (Ireland), Frans Malherbe (South Africa), Andrew Porter (Ireland)
LOCKS: Eben Etzebeth (South Africa), Maro Itoje (England), Tadhg Beirne (Ireland), Lood de Jagr (South Africa)
BACK ROW: Ardie Savea (New Zealand), Josh van der Flier (Ireland), Gregory Alldritt (France), Siya Kolisi (South Africa), Courtney Lawes (England)
SCRUMHALF: Antoine Dupont (France), Aaron Smith (New Zealand), Jamison Gibson-Park (Ireland)
OUTHALF: Johnny Sexton (Ireland), Romain Ntamack (France), Beauden Barrett (New Zealand)
CENTRES: Lukhanyo Am (South Africa), Gaël Fickou (France), Robbie Henshaw (Ireland), Samu Kerevi (Australia)
BACK THREE: Will Jordan (New Zealand), Damian Penaud (France), Hugo Keenan (Ireland), Gabin Villière (France), Freddie Steward (England)
🏉The "World Class" 33 as chosen by you.
Adding the back three to complete the July 2022 squad.
None of the back 3 from Jan 2020 have made it into this.
What do you think of the full squad? pic.twitter.com/8fLmkIZfK6
— Simon Gleave (@SimonGleave) July 27, 2022
Four Irish players in 'World Class' starting XV
The major takeaways from the selection are that there is a decent spread, but The Rugby Championship may offer up more southern hemisphere contenders for spots.
Andrew Porter performed well at loosehead in the Six Nations, and in New Zealand, but he has been selected as a versatile prop that can cover loose- and tight-head. From an Irish perspective, Dan Sheehan, Caelan Doris and Peter O'Mahony are all unlucky to miss out.
Marcus Smith must have pushed Beauden Barrett close for that final outhalf spot, with South African fans will be asking where the likes of Makazole Mapimpi and Damian Willemse are. It is always surprising to see a world class selection, too, that does not include Sam Whitelock or Brodie Retallick.
Based on the number of votes received, this would be the team that fans believe are the strongest XV in the game right now.
WORLD CLASS STARTING XV
1. Ellis Genge (England)
2. Julien Marchand (France)
3. Tadhg Furlong (Ireland)
4. Maro Itoje (England)
5. Eben Etzebeth (South Africa)
6. Gregory Alldritt (France)
7. Josh van der Flier (Ireland)
8. Ardie Savea (New Zealand)
9. Antoine Dupont (France)
10. Johnny Sexton (Ireland)
11. Will Jordan (New Zealand)
12. Gaël Fickou (France)
13. Lukhanyo Am (South Africa)
14. Damian Penaud (France)
15. Hugo Keenan (Ireland)
Underestimate Keith Earls at your peril...