Joe Schmidt has instilled the team and the supporters with a new winning attitude. Coming into the World Cup with back to back 6 Nations titles expectations are high, but can the Ireland players cope with the favourites tag? Can they back up their recent form with a string of consistent performances?
World Ranking: 2
Odds of Winning: 8/1
Road to Qualification: World Cup 2011 Quarter Finalists
Ireland 28 – 22 Scotland
Wales 21 – 35 Ireland
Scotland 10 – 40 Ireland
Wales 23 – 16 Ireland
World Cup Pool Games:
|Saturday, 19 September 15||14:30||Ireland||Canada||Millenium Stadium, Cardiff|
|Sunday, 27 September 15||16:45||Ireland||Romania||Wembley Stadium|
|Sunday, 4 October 15||16:45||Ireland||Italy||Olympic Stadium|
|Sunday, 11 October 15||16:45||Ireland||France||Millenium Stadium, Cardiff|
- Adapting Tactical Play – there can be little question that the most important part of this team is their coach, Joe Schmidt. While not always the most entertaining brand, he knows how to tailor a game in Ireland’s favour.
- Defence – on their day, Ireland can look even more confident and in control without the ball than with. Schmidt will continue to focus on this and breakdown turnovers.
- Set Piece – their strong starting front row isn’t weakened much by their 2nd string counterparts. With Rory Best throwing to Paul O’Connell’s calls, their line-out is a well-oiled machine.
- Underdogs – while Ireland seem on the up and up, if history has taught us anything, it’s that Ireland don’t traditionally cope with the favourites tag. Complacency may get the better of them.
- Conservative Game Plan – Schmidt’s game plan seems to be a reliable one that puts the focus on tactical kicking, field position, and defence. While this has mostly worked so far, the lack of tries is cause for concern for some fans. This could see them be shown up by some of the more expansive Southern Hemisphere teams.
- Paul O’Connell – the talismanic captain leads by example. Has lead Ireland to back to back 6 Nations championships in 2014 and 2015 as well as leading the British and Irish Lions to a tour win in 2013. Unrivaled as a lineout and maul operator in the Ireland squad.
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- Rory Best – a defencive powerhouse, his main irreplaceable asset is his reliability in the set pieces, something the other Ireland hookers’ lack.
- Sean O’Brien – while his impact on the pith might not always be obvious, he consistently makes hard carries, almost always breaking the gain line. His work at the breakdown, poaching balls and winning penalties is an invaluable asset.
Video Source: MTJ Rugby
- Johnny Sexton – one of the best fly halves in the world right now. Sexton has the incomparable ability to translate Joe Schmidt’s precise tactical game plan onto the pitch.
Video Source: Plop12Man
- Connor Murray – a fitting partner to Jonny Sexton, while backups are present, few are as well rounded in defence or decision making.
- Rob Kearney – reliable as a final line of defence, and can take a ball in the air like nobody else. Probably Ireland’s most recognized leader in the backs.
Injuries / Unlucky to miss out:
UPDATE: Joe Schmidt officially named his 31 man squad on the 31st of August, and made it public the following morning.
- Tommy O’Donnell – has been impressive in the few opportunities he’s had. Only being kept off the main team by the powerhouse that is Sean O’Brien. After starting out very well, he was unlucky to dislocate his hip in the first warm up match against Wales.
- Andrew Trimble – after being kept out of major competition for the last year with an ankle injury, Trimble appeared to aggravate it again in the first warm up against Wales. While he made an appearance for Ulster before the squad was announced, likeliness is that Schmidt was not comfortable taking him after only 35 minutes of international rugby since the 2014 6 nations. No doubt he will be training hard looking to get the call up should any of the Irish backs get injured.
- Martin Moore – after shoulder surgery at the end of last season, Moore was recently pulled from a Leinster pre-season game with the hopes of keeping him fit for Ireland. Failing to get match fit in time for any of Ireland’s warm up games, Schmidt must have felt the risk too great, leaving him out. Unlucky, as given a couple more weeks recovery time he would have been a sure thing for Mike Ross’ replacement.
- David Kilcoyne – After performing well in the warm ups, Schmidt has surprised supporters and pundits alike by opting to bring only 2 recognized loose head props, one of them being the injured Cian Healy. No doubt Kilcoyne will feel hard done by as he barely put a foot wrong. A decision seemingly made on squad balance rather than individual ability.
- Michael Bent – In the weeks leading up to the announcement it was assumed that Bent might make the squad ahead of the arguably more talented David Kilcoyne, Nathan White, and Tadhg Furlong because of his ability to cover both sides of the scrum. In a surprise turn, both White and Furlong have been included, with Bent being sent back to his club. An interesting call in terms of balance to say the least.
- Isaac Boss / Kieran Marmion – These scrum halves were always in direct competition with each other for the 3rd position in the squad. Boss being the man with experience, and Marmion the young up and comer with bucket loads of potential. But lo and behold Schmidt surprised again by including neither of them, opting to take only 2 scrum halves.
UPDATE: Joe Schmidt officially named his 31 man squad on the 31st of August, and made it public the following morning. Below is the official squad.
Loosehead Props: Cian Healy (Leinster), Jack McGrath (Leinster).
Hookers: Rory Best (Ulster), Sean Cronin (Leinster), Richardt Strauss (Leinster).
Tighthead Props: Mike Ross (Leinster), Tadhg Furlong (Leinster), Nathan White (Connaught).
Second Row: Paul O’Connell (Toulon), Devin Toner (Leinster), Donnacha Ryan (Munster), Iain Henderson (Ulster).
Back Row: Jamie Heaslip (Leinster), Sean O’Brien (Leinster), Peter O’Mahony (Munster), Jordi Murphy (Leinster), Chris Henry (Ulster).
Scrum Halves: Connor Murray (Munster), Eoin Reddan (Leinster).
Fly Halves: Johnny Sexton (Leinster), Paddy Jackson (Ulster), Ian Madigan (Leinster).
Centres: Robbie Henshaw (Connaught), Jared Payne (Ulster), Keith Earls (Munster), Darren Cave (Ulster).
Back 3: Tommy Bowe (Ulster), Rob Kearney (Leinster), Dave Kearney (Leinster), Simon Zebo (Munster), Luke Fitzgerald (Leinster).
Likely Starting XV:
Most Ireland fans would agree that Ireland’s biggest asset isn’t any player on the pitch, it’s their coach, Joe Schmidt. His ruthlessly accurate tactics have been criticised as a boring brand of rugby, but there’s no denying its success. Schmidt’s brand is simple: field position, solid set pieces, and a wicked kick chase. During this years 6 nations pundits and fans alike worried that the tactic wasn’t resulting in enough tries in open play. They were proven right when Ireland’s kick and chase was nullified by a well-prepared welsh defence. However, Schmidt’s past success with Leinster before becoming the Ireland coach shows that his tactics can produce some entertaining running rugby as well, which was evident in recent games against both New Zealand and Scotland.
Johnny Sexton has been the immaculate executor of Joe Schmidt’s game plan, but there is some concern that his replacements may not be at the level Schmidt would like. Paddy Jackson is reliable, but not yet at the standards Schmidt would like, whereas Ian Madigan has moments of brilliance, but at times can be too unpredictable.
The high standard of Brian O’Driscoll has left a hole in the center position for Ireland. He consistently redefined what it meant to be an outside center throughout his career, and the Irish coaching team has struggled to find a new combination to replace him. One of Ireland’s greatest dilemmas at the moment is their pool of versatile backs not only means there is no obvious successor to O’Driscoll. In fact, there is a whole range of recognized starting combinations to choose from in the back line, with five centers – Henshaw, Payne, Fitzgerald, Earls, and Cave – putting their hands up for consideration. Schmidt also faces a tough choice on the wing, with Bowe, Dave Kearny, and Zebo putting in some hard graft for their chance at the World Cup. The headache is only compounded by Fitzgerald and Earls both competing for a position on the wing as well as center.
Building consistency will be the greatest challenge yet to Joe Schmidt’s Ireland. With the prospect of facing New Zealand in the quarter finals if they don’t finish top of their pool, and France seeming to hit their stride in their last 3 encounters with England, Ireland will need to pull out a big performance in their last pool game.