Ireland rugby team kick off their 2019 World Cup campaign against Scotland on September 22nd at 8:45am.
It appears as though Joe Schmidt’s side are hitting their best form at just the right time. Following the team’s unstoppable performances of 2018, this year has been a relatively disappointing one for Irish rugby.
The disappointment of 2018 reached its peak when Ireland suffered a 42 point defeat at the hands of the old rival, England, at Twickenham on the 24th of August. This record breaking loss came just under a month before Ireland’s World Cup opener. Understandably, the loss provoked mass anxiety among critical Irish supporters. Irish fans were critical of the side’s performance. Many fans and pundits alike were considering if the Irish team had reached its peak in 2018.
Fans fears surrounding the readiness of the Ireland squad for this year’s World Cup will have been somewhat settled recently. Since that England loss, Ireland have picked up an impressive couple of victories over a strong Wales side. Ireland’s performances in their final two World Cup warm-up games have taken them up to first in the World Rugby Rankings. This is the first time in history that Ireland have claimed the top spot in world rugby.
Signs are looking good that Ireland are ready to take their absolute best to Japan this month. Ireland have never advanced beyond the Quarter-finals in any World Cup, up to this point. In a sense, the world number ones have little to lose, given they should comfortably reach the Quarter-final stage. However, expectations will be high, given Ireland’s current standing in the world rankings. If Schmidt and his staff can bring the Ireland of a year ago to Japan, Ireland could be set for a very exciting World Cup campaign.
On paper, Ireland’s opening fixture, vs Scotland, will likely be their most difficult in the pool stage. Host nation Japan are also in Ireland’s group. With home support behind them, they will not be a challenge to take lightly either. Despite the challenge of Scotland and Japan, Ireland should expect to make it through the pool stage unscathed.
Scotland are the closest thing to a real challenger that Ireland will have in pool A. As a result, I expect the Ireland squad who contests the opening fixture, to be a reliable and experienced 15, with little risk involved. Schmidt will view Ireland’s opening fixture as one to just get through with a win, rather than one to experiment in.
Ireland’s front row almost picks itself. The big question mark being does Cian Healy start, or does Dave Kilcoyne get the nod? Kilcoyne poses a genuine threat to Healy’s place in Ireland’s 15. It wouldn’t surprise me to see him take Healy’s place in the squad over the tournament. However, like I stated previously, I expect reliable, experienced heads to be called on to get the job done in this first fixture. As a result, I think Healy will play alongside Rory Best and Tadhg Furlong, to make up Ireland’s front row.
The specimen of James Ryan, given current form for Ireland, will accompany Iain Henderson in Ireland’s second row.
Meanwhile, I can only come to one logical conclusion when considering how the back row will look. Josh van der Flier will likely be Ireland’s go to openside for the tournament. CJ Stander’s performances have improved since being moved from the number 8, so he gets the number 6 jersey. Peter O’Mahony’s experience and quality will leave him with the number 8 for the Scotland game.
It will be interesting to watch the selection dilemma between Sexton and Carberry unfold over the tournament. Carberry has been immense in recent Ireland appearances. He should be back to fitness by the Scotland game, however, it is unlikely that the Munster fly-half will be thrusted straight into the deep end vs Scotland coming off his recent ankle injury. Sexton will get the nod, and should provide enough quality to get through Scotland. He and Conor Murray will make up Ireland’s half back pairing.
I expect Robbie Henshaw and Bundee Aki to play as Ireland’s two centres vs Scotland. The wings will be much more difficult to call. Keith Earls has been cleared of any injury after a scare in Ireland’s final warm-up vs Wales. This will ease the concerns of Irish fans. If he is fit enough to play vs Scotland, I think Earls will occupy a starting place. On the opposite flank, I think that Jacob Stockdale will get the nod. Andrew Conway and Jordan Larmour are other viable wing options for Schmidt to consider.
Needless to say, Rob Kearney will be starting at full-back.
Sean Cronin, Dave Kilcoyne, Andrew Porter, Jean Kleyn, Jack Conan, Luke McGrath, Jack Carty and Garry Ringrose will be the replacements.
- Healy 2. Best 3. Furlong
- Ryan 5. Henderson
- Stander 7. Van Der Flier 8. O’Mahony
- Murray 10. Sexton
- Earls 12. Aki 13. Henshaw 14. Stockdale