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Out of the Ashes

WHERE to now? The four-year cycle will begin from this day forth. Coach Declan Kidney, forwards guru Gert Smal and defence expert Les Kiss have signed on for another two years to walk Ireland halfway up the stairway to the heaven that is England in 2015.

The return of backs coach Alan Gaffney to Australia has left an opening for the last piece of the jigsaw.

Ireland need an innovative, creative thinker to transform what has become a predictable and uninspired backline.

Kidney should not delay in bringing Joe Schmidt -- if his Leinster contract permits -- into the golden circle as a renowned backs coach who believes in counter-attack.



History

Surely, Brian O'Driscoll, Ronan O'Gara, David Wallace, Mike Ross and Stephen Ferris, still a young man, will succumb in a game that is putting more stress on bones, ligaments and tendons than at any time in its history.

This is a possible Ireland side that might emerge over the next four years to represent the country at the next World Cup.

It contains eight starting players from the current tournament and seven additions, including Leinster's Luke Fitzgerald.

NB: The age of the players in 2015 has been included.

15

THE INCUMBENT: Rob Kearney, 29

THE UNDERSTUDY: Keith Earls, 28

THE PREDICTION: Rob Kearney, 29

British and Irish Lions full-back Kearney should be approaching his peak in four years' time. Once again, he showed his big-game temperament by getting better with every match in New Zealand.

14

THE INCUMBENT: Tommy Bowe, 31

THE UNDERSTUDY: Andrew Trimble, 30

THE PREDICTION: Nevin Spence, 25

Ulster's Spence (pictured left) is a super-aggressive, 15-stone centre for his province. Originally a wing, he lacks the skills of an international centre, but does have the speed to make it on the flank.

13

THE INCUMBENT: Brian O'Driscoll, 36

THE UNDERSTUDY: Keith Earls, 28

THE PREDICTION: Tommy Bowe, 31

The Ospreys man would do well to return to Ireland at the end of his contract in the summer of 2013 where the longevity of his career would be the priority of the IRFU under the Player Welfare Programme.

12

THE INCUMBENT: Gordon D'Arcy, 35

THE UNDERSTUDY: Fergus McFadden, 29

THE PREDICTION: Luke Fitzgerald, 28

Ireland have to manage what they have. If Fitzgerald can recover the form that made him a British and Irish Lion in 2009, his superior physicality and knifing tackle technique could see him return where he is impressing for Leinster right now.

11

THE INCUMBENT: Keith Earls, 28

THE UNDERSTUDY: Andrew Trimble, 30

THE PREDICTION: Keith Earls, 28

Munster's Earls finally got his way for Ireland, winning Kidney's approval as the

first-choice left wing at the World Cup ahead of Andrew Trimble, who made such a strong case for the same jersey.

10

THE INCUMBENT: Ronan O'Gara, 38

THE UNDERSTUDY: Jonathan Sexton, 30

THE PREDICTION: Jonathan Sexton, 30

The march of father time will take Ireland's record points-scorer out of the equation at a time when he shares the honour of being first choice with Sexton. This is not to say Sexton will have a free run to 2015. Ulster's Paddy Jackson, Leinster's Ian Madigan and Munster's Ian Keatley are maturing nicely.

9

THE INCUMBENT: Conor Murray, 26

THE UNDERSTUDY: Tomás O'Leary, 31

THE PREDICTION: Luke McGrath, 22

Ireland U18 Schools captain McGrath has been earmarked for great things. He has a low centre of gravity, immense strength, acceleration, speed of delivery and a quick mind all in the mould of 'The Little General' Morgan Parra.

1

THE INCUMBENT: Cian Healy, 28

THE UNDERSTUDY: Tom Court, 34

THE PREDICTION: Cian Healy, 28

Leinster prop Healy is streets ahead of the challengers as a prototype world-class modern-day loose-head. He can scrum, cover the ground quickly, carry with intensity and hit hard. He does it all.

2

THE INCUMBENT: Rory Best, 33

THE UNDERSTUDY: Sean Cronin, 29

THE PREDICTION: Richardt Strauss, 29

South African Strauss (pictured right) has been a fast learner, improving his throwing out of all recognition and providing an extra dimension as a former back-rower before he becomes Ireland-qualified under the three-year residency rule.

3

THE INCUMBENT: Mike Ross, 35

THE UNDERSTUDY: Tony Buckley, 35

THE PREDICTION: Adam Macklin, 26

Munster's Stephen Archer has a long way to go. Jamie Hagan is a solid scrummager with a lot to learn. Converted number eight Ulster's Adam Macklin is an interesting prospect even though his progress has been hampered by injury.

4

THE INCUMBENT: Donncha O'Callaghan, 36

THE UNDERSTUDY: Leo Cullen, 37

THE PREDICTION: Paul O'Connell, 35

The leadership skills and standards set by O'Connell will still make him irreplaceable. He will do a tremendous job as a tight forward with a narrower, more traditional role at number two.

5

THE INCUMBENT: Paul O'Connell, 35

THE UNDERSTUDY: Donnacha Ryan, 31

THE PREDICTION: Ian Nagle, 26

Munster forwards coach Anthony Foley has been slow to throw Nagle to the wolves. He has been brought along gradually as he builds muscle onto an athletic frame.

6

THE INCUMBENT: Stephen Ferris, 30

THE UNDERSTUDY: Donnacha Ryan, 31

THE PREDICTION: Dan Leavy, 21

At St Michael's College, there lurks a fierce prospect in Leavy, a relentlessly destructive blindside with immaculate hands and offloading subtleties. English club scouts were in a tizzy over his performance against England U18s last December.

7

THE INCUMBENT: Sean O'Brien, 28

THE UNDERSTUDY: David Wallace, 39

THE PREDICTION: Sean O'Brien, 28

A world-class groundhog seven is a rare treasure. That is why Ireland should and will persist with O'Brien in this position as a player who can provide go-forward and work adequately on the floor.

8

THE INCUMBENT: Jamie Heaslip, 31

THE UNDERSTUDY: Denis Leamy, 33

THE PREDICTION: Jamie Heaslip, 31

Heaslip has achieved so much in the game on a personal level and, yet, has so much to prove on the biggest stage in the game. He missed out on the World Cup four years ago. He will want to make a mark in 2015.