Tuesday 12 December 2017

Brent Pope: Versatility key ingredient for Ireland's World Cup personnel

Robbie Henshaw, left,
Robbie Henshaw, left,

It's seems that versatility is the key ingredient for Joe Schmidt's Rugby World Cup selection, with specialist players such as Ireland's 2014 Player of the year Andrew Trimble, scrum-half Isaac Boss, Marty Moore, David Kilcoyne and others being given the bad news late on Monday evening.

Admittedly, Trimble has been struggling with a lack of field time due to a foot injury that occurred in an impressive defensive effort against Wales a few weeks back, but he responded perfectly with a try and 80 minutes for Ulster last weekend and looked not only a definite WC squad member, but someone pushing for a starting place. There is also no sympathetic inclusion of experienced veteran centre Gordon D'Arcy, who is sadly not likely to feature in a green jersey again.

In a professional game that does not favour sentiment, 17 players will make their tournament debuts, including Darren Cave, Luke Fitzgerald, Tadhg Furlong, Iain Henderson, Chris Henry, Robbie Henshaw, Paddy Jackson, Dave Kearney, Ian Madigan, Jack McGrath, Jordi Murphy, Peter O'Mahony, Jared Payne, Richardt Strauss, Devin Toner, Nathan White and Simon Zebo.

Schmidt has taken what is hopefully a calculated risk in the selection of just two scrumhalves, ie Conor Murray and Eoin Reddan, and in another risk not afforded Trimble, has included world-class prop Cian Healy despite the prop not featuring in a single minute of the warm-up matches due to injury

Taking just two scrumhalves is a risk, but in my opinion is one worth taking. Like me, Schmidt figures that in the three games leading up to the crunch pool match against France, should any major problems arise at nine, then Ian Madigan can do enough in that position to get them over the likes of Canada, Romania and Italy.

But Schmidt may still be well advised to give Madigan some game time in this position off the bench against England just to assess this option more realistically.

In fairness, Ireland was never going to carry a third scrum-half on the bench anyway. So Schmidt feels that another playmaker in the centres, such as Ulster's Darren Cave, is more beneficial to the team, one cannot disagree with that rational.


Ireland badly needs another yard-gainer in the centre of the park where they have struggled in recent games to make any incisive breaks. Up front, Tadhg Furlong is the only real bolter, and by all accounts a player that did not think he would make it himself.

Marty Moore was always going to struggle, especially given that Schmidt already had one semi-fit prop in Healy on his hands, so Furlong, another tight head, leapfrogs the likes of David Kilcoyne and Michael Bent onto the plane. It is reputed that the single-capped Furlong can, if pushed, play on both sides of the scrum despite international proof and that versatility sees him in ahead of, say, Kilkoyne, a specialist loose-head prop. But one prays that Cian Healy is actually fit to play. Because Ireland is running pretty close to the bone in terms of a ball-carrying front rower.

Mike Ross will anchor the scrum as he has done for the past number of years, but Ireland does need big ball-carrying men that can get over the gain-line close in, especially under the new laws regarding defensive positioning. So, after months of deliberation, and some painful phone calls Schmidt finally has his squad. He must now prepare them for the most important six weeks of their rugby lives.

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