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07th Aug 2023

31 players are already locked in for Ireland’s World Cup squad

Patrick McCarry

Ireland squad

“We’ll get to a point where we’ve got the best 33 on the plane.”

Andy Farrell and his Ireland players are heading to Portugal, this week, for a spot of warm weather training. It has been reported that the Ireland squad will also have a closed door run-out against the national side, while they are in the Algarve.

Ireland have only three games in their World Cup warm-up itinerary but look to be using their Portuguese hosts to put more players, including suspended captain Johnny Sexton, through their paces. The past three World Cup training blocks have seen Ireland play four Tests but feedback from the current squad – players, coaches and backroom staff – saw them settle on three.

“That’s what is correct for this squad,” Farrell told us, after Ireland’s 33-17 win over Italy. “We’re a team that has been together for quite some time. We feel that balance and with the plan of the training, the training schedule in our end fits perfectly.

“Playing four, five or six [matches], that’s everyone’s different preference of where they think they are at in their stage of development. We feel like three is right for us going into the Romania game… extremely happy with the fitness levels, I think they are in great nick.”

There was another interesting snippet from our post-match chat with the Ireland head coach. Asked if each of the 42 players included in the Ireland squad would get minutes over those three warm-up games, Farrell argued that he did not necessarily see if that way.

With a strong XV expected for the August 19 game against England, it may leave the likes of Gavin Coombes, Jamie Osborne and Kieran Treadwell sweating over whether they will get a chance to show what they can do before the final squad is confirmed, later this month.

To my mind, Farrell already has a solid idea of the 33 players he is bringing to France. The likes of Jacob Stockdale, Joe McCarthy, Keith Earls and Cian Prendergast gave him more to ponder, after the Italy game, but the reality is, the fight for places is only for the last three or four spots.

Ireland squadCiaran Frawley and Caelan Doris of Ireland have a picture taken after their side’s victory over Italy at Aviva Stadium. (Photo by Harry Murphy/Sportsfile)

Our predicted Ireland squad picks

The starting XV and bench selection for the Italy game was as much of a nod from Andy Farrell towards his eventual World Cup selection as any of his post-match comments.

Farrell has his full-strength XV clearly in mind, and I would be pretty confident of selecting an Ireland bench for a big World Cup game if you pinned me to it. Swap out Ross Byrne for Johnny Sexton and you can see where he is heading with his selections.

After the 2023 Six Nations, and the Grand Slam that came with it, we named 24 players that we believed were nailed on for the Ireland squad, once the World Cup rolled around. That article also included six more ‘probables’, leaving three spots up for grabs.

Five months on, we are selecting the 31 guarantees, leaving 12 players duking it out for the final three spots. Let us first start with the men we feel are locked in:

HOOKER: Dan Sheehan, Rónan Kelleher, Rob Herring

LOOSEHEAD: Andrew Porter, Cian Healy, Dave Kilcoyne

TIGHTHEAD: Tadhg Furlong, Finlay Bealham, Tom O’Toole

SECOND ROW: Tadhg Beirne, James Ryan, Iain Henderson, Ryan Baird

BACK ROW: Peter O’Mahony, Josh van der Flier, Caelan Doris, Jack Conan

SCRUM-HALVES: Jamison Gibson-Park, Conor Murray, Craig Casey

OUT-HALVES: Johnny Sexton, Ross Byrne, Jack Crowley

CENTRES: Bundee Aki, Garry Ringrose, Robbie Henshaw, Stuart McCloskey

BACK THREE: Mack Hansen, James Lowe, Hugo Keenan, Jimmy O’Brien

That leaves Tom Stewart (hooker), Kieran Treadwell (lock), Joe McCarthy (lock), Cian Prendergast (back row), Gavin Coombes (back row), Caolin Blade (scrumhalf), Ciaran Frawley (centre), Jamie Osborne (centre), Calvin Nash (wing), Jacob Stockdale (wing) and Keith Earls (wing/centre)

Garry Ringrose and Robbie Henshaw both having tendencies to pick up knocks leads me to believe Stuart McCoskey will end up taking an extra spot for centres. Keith Earls can cover there but he would rarely start a game at 13.

If you were to ask me right now for those final two players to fill out that Ireland squad, I would select Cian Prendergast and Keith Earls. Jacob Stockdale did well against Italy but Earls has the versatility, would slot in well for the opening two games, across the backline (centre, either wing or fullback) and scored a try against New Zealand only last summer. That counts for something.

The hardest done-by in that circumstance would be Kieran Treadwell. There still would be an option to go with Ryan Baird as a back row, to accommodate Treadwell, but it would see Prendergast miss out.

These are good dilemmas to have, of course, and one hopes there are no injuries rearing up before that final squad is selected.

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