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01st Aug 2023

A bold, youthful Ireland team we would love to see start against Italy

Patrick McCarry

This game could be the only chance some fringe players get.

Andy Farrell’s side officially get their 2023/24 season, and World Cup journey, underway this weekend by welcoming Italy to Aviva Stadium. We have, below, selected a bold Ireland team we’d love to see take to the field.

On Monday, the IRFU released a squad update stating that Farrell and his coaches had no injury concerns and stating that all players are in contention to feature in Saturday’s game against Italy. Only the suspended Johnny Sexton misses out, as he will until the tournament itself begins.

After the three-match Sexton suspension was confirmed, we ran a piece on the team Farrell could still start with against Italy if he wanted to start off with a full deck. To our mind, the coach’s big calls would be starting outhalf, centres and hooker. In our XV, we included Ross Byrne, Robbie Henshaw and Garry Ringrose and Dan Sheehan.

It is unlikely, though, that Farrell will come out of the gates with his strongest XV. He will look to mix and match and focus on certain combinations. To our mind, the England game [August 19] will be his big swing with some experimentation carried out against Italy and Samoa. To that end, we have selected a bolder Ireland team to face the Azzurri and one that gives squad hopefuls that stage upon which to impress.

Ireland teamRoss Byrne, second from left, speaks to teammates, from left, Ross Byrne, Hugo Keenan, Calvin Nash and Bundee Aki during Ireland rugby squad training at the IRFU High Performance Centre. (Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile)

A bolder, fresher Ireland team

Ireland facing Romania and Tonga in their first two World Cup games means the main men do not exactly need to be going close to full gas yet. The idea will be to put minutes through legs, for senior men, while seeing how the fringe players cope in the Test arena.

Although we do not expect Andy Farrell to be as bold as us, we are going with a lot of players that are greener, in terms of Test experience. Three of our starting XV are uncapped, with another, Ciarán Frawley, on the bench. There is an argument to be made that Frawley could start, too, but we have sprinkled in some older lads.

We want to see Jack Crowley starting another Ireland game in the 10 jersey, and see if he can quickly strike up a bond with Jamison Gibson-Park. The temptation here is to go Craig Casey or even Conor Murray with Crowley, but we would love to see how he fares with the rapid-fire JGP beside him.

Keith Earls, Stuart McCloskey, Gibson-Park, Cian Healy, Josh van der Flier and James Ryan all starting gives the side a solid foundation of experience and we have also went for some familiarity in the combinations – hooker and tighthead, second row and back three.

Elsewhere, it is more about giving guys a long-awaited start and seeing how they fare. Eight of the starters in our Ireland team are 25 or younger, with another four on our bench.


15. Jimmy O’Brien
14. Calvin Nash*
13. Jamie Osborne*
12. Stuart McCloskey
11. Keith Earls
10. Jack Crowley
9. Jamison Gibson-Park

1. Cian Healy
2. Tom Stewart*
3. Tom O’Toole
4. Ryan Baird
5. James Ryan (captain)
6. Cian Prendergast
7. Josh van der Flier
8. Gavin Coombes

Replacements: Rónan Kelleher, Dave Kilcoyne, Finlay Bealham, Joe McCarthy, Jack Conan, Craig Casey, Ross Byrne, Ciaran Frawley*.

Ireland take on Italy from 8pm at Aviva Stadium on Saturday, August 5.

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