The 24 players nailed-on for spots in Ireland's World Cup squad
Another seven are all but certain of selection, depending on their fitness and injury fortune.
Andy Farrell had 46 players come into his Ireland camp, before and during the 2023 Six Nations. Paring that back to 33 will be a mighty task and he will already be mulling his World Cup squad.
Ireland are expected to have only three warm-up games, ahead of the 2023 World Cup, before Farrell's squad is submitted to World Rugby and announced to the wider public.
Last time out, with 31 players allowed, the shock omissions were Devin Toner, Jordi Murphy and Kieran Marmion, with Joe Schmidt leaning on Joey Carbery as emergency scrumhalf. Injury call-ups are permitted during the tournament but the additional peace of mind is provided by 33 players now being allowed for each squad, and at least five down days between games.
32 players got minutes during the Grand Slam campaign, in the Six Nations, emphasising just how deep national sides must often dip when big games are coming thick and fast. On House of Rugby, myself, Jason Hennessy and James Downey [LISTEN from 38:55 below] debated the World Cup 'locks' and one name caused some debate.
WORLD CUP SQUAD GUARANTEES
During House of Rugby, rather than going through an entire World Cup squad debate, I read out a list of 25 players that I felt were - fitness permitting - were locks for France 2023.
Andrew Porter, Cian Healy, Rónan Kelleher, Dan Sheehan, Tadhg Furlong, Finlay Bealham, Tom O'Toole, Tadhg Beirne, James Ryan, Ryan Baird, Peter O'Mahony, Josh van der Flier, Caelan Doris, Jack Conan, Jamison Gibson-Park, Conor Murray, Craig Casey, Johnny Sexton, James Lowe, Mack Hansen, Bundee Aki, Garry Ringrose, Robbie Henshaw, Hugo Keenan.
The eagle-eyed of you may note there are only 24 names included. I did have Ross Byrne included on my list, but both Hennessy and Downey talked me out of reserving plane tickets in his name just yet.
"I think there's one person that shouldn't be in there and that's Ross Byrne," said Hennessy. "I wouldn't say he's a guarantee. He's definitely shown that he's an option in there but I think there's more left in Joey Carbery and Jack Crowley, depending on how the season goes."
"I definitely think they both have a lot to say in the matter," said Downey, as he leaned on the fact that both Crowley and Carbery can cover more than just outhalf.
Other leading World Cup squad candidates
James Downey highlighted the cases of Jimmy O'Brien and Jamie Osborne as versatile backline options while addressing a topic most of us would prefer to avoid - injuries to one or two frontline stars.
"You're always going to lose one or two lads, along the way," he said. "That is the nature of it, and you have to get on with it."
WORLD CUP PROBABLES
- Dave Kilcoyne, Rob Herring, Iain Henderson, Ross Byrne, Stuart McCloskey, Jimmy O'Brien.
The likelihood, then, is that Andy Farrell will bring three specialist looseheads, hookers and tightheads. There should also be three scrum-halves, with one of the out-halves being either a Crowley or a Carbery, that could cover another backline slot.
Those six probables added to the 24 'locks' makes it 30 slots filled. From the fringe candidates, below, I have highlighted [in bold] the players I suspect will complete the squad. This, of course, is all being done five months out from the real deal.
WORLD CUP FRINGE CANDIDATES
- Kieran Treadwell, Cian Prendergast, Gavin Coombes, Jack Crowley, Keith Earls, Andrew Conway, James Hume, Jordan Larmour, Rob Baloucoune, Caolin Blade, Jamie Osborne, Jacob Stockdale, Joey Carbery, Tom Stewart.
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