Ireland’s World Cup 30 – Front Row

Over the next fortnight we’ll be looking at the likely runners and riders for Ireland’s World Cup 30, taking it unit-by-unit.  Starting with the front row…

How many will go? While some teams will take five props, we can see Ireland taking only four, as was the case in 2007.  Put simply, we just don’t have that many good ones to justify a fifth.  We are expecting a 16-14 split of forwards and backs accordingly, though we cannot rule out 17-13 with five props.  Three hookers will certainly travel.

Who is certain to travel? Ireland’s Six Nations front row of Cian Healy, Rory Best and Mike Ross are all on the plane.  Ambipropsterous Tom Court and Leinster-bound hooker Sean Cronin can also consider themselves as good as selected.

Who is scrapping out for the last spots?  At hooker, it’s a question of fitness of one Jerry Flannery.  The great Limerick man is Ireland’s best thrower, but he has endured a torrid time and hasn’t really played any rugby of note for two seasons, so even if passed fit would represent a huge gamble, and the risk of him breaking down again would surely be high.  If he doesn’t make it, there seems little doubt that Damian Varley will go in his place.  Varley is a doughty competitor but his throwing has been so poor of late, it wouldn’t be a surprise if Kidney gambled on Jirry if he can establish his fitness in the August warm-up games.  We expect him to be named in the initial panel, but it’s likely that Varley will end up replacing him in New Zealand. 

The fourth prop slot looks a straight shootout between the feckless Buckley and the long past-it Hayes.  The Bruff man was more Dairy Cow than Bull this season, but rolled back the years for a last hurrah in the Magners League playoffs, and looks to have done just enough to hold off Buckle, whose season promised so much and delivered so little.  Given Court’s ability to play both sides, the fourth prop could conceivably be a loosie, in which case the somewhat rejuvenated Marcus Horan would probably get the nod, though his antics in the ML final are unlikely to have impressed.

So, we think Hayes is on the plane, which really serves to underline just how important Mike Ross is to the team – if he is injured, Ireland’s challenge withers.  If Deccie does decide he needs a fifth prop, we would expect a loosehead, Marcus Horan, would be the man to join the party, but we are not expecting it to happen.

Any bolters? Mike Sherry finished the season impressively, but the World Cup has come too early for him.

Should go: Mike Ross, Cian Healy, Rory Best, Sean Cronin, Tom Court, John Hayes, Damian Varley

Will go: Mike Ross, Cian Healy, Rory Best, Sean Cronin, Tom Court, John Hayes, Jerry Flannery (fitness permitting)



  1. I agree with your choice, except you seem to be saying that if Jerry Flannery is fit Damian Varley 'should' go ahead of him!? The surgery Flannery had for that disturbing condition in his calves surely should have gotten to the root of the problem and they seem to be giving him a very cautious road back to full fitness so I'd be confident enough that his problems there are sorted, whether he can return to optimum match sharpness/form (see Luke Fitzgerald) in time is another question, but not a big enough one to take Varley ahead of him if he's fit.It is a shocking pity that Buckley hasn't done enough to deserve a seat, he shows so much potential in flashes. I wonder what Smal is thinking right now after investing so much in him and talking him up so much over the past year or two. I have a sneaking feeling they might opt for Buckley ahead of Hayes. Maybe with Feek there just enough improvement could be gotten out of Buckley (compared to his Munster displays) to make him a better choice than Hayes but we're into such fine detail here it's impossible for anyone to make the call other than the hands-on coaches…

  2. Hi CzarakThanks very much for the comment. Agree completely on Buckley. Both of us here at WoC have to admit to falling into the trap of thinking Buckley was going to fulfil his potential this season after that brilliant performance vs. New Zealand in the summer tour. But he’s had a terrible season and Smal’s comments do indeed look a bit silly.If he loses his place to a 37 year old it will go down as one of the most spectacular falls from grace we have seen. How many times has this guy shown us a glimpse of what he can do only to fall apart? One factor in Hayes’ favour if it’s a tight call is personality – let’s face it, the 4th choice prop isn’t going to see too much action, so if you need a guy there to be a decent squad man, you’d choose a good pro like Hayes over a wastrel like Buckley.The Flannery question is more complex, and admittedly represents a hard call for Deccie. We can only guess at what sort of condition Fla is in, but I just don’t see how he can be expected to perform to anything like a high level after two years to all intents and purposes out of the game. In order to get him even close to match-sharp, he would have to play a lot of the minutes in the warm up games –at the expense of Cronin and Best. We’d be investing all our hopes on Flannery not only holding up, but showing the form of 2009. It’s a very marginal call, but for me it just represents too big a risk. Though I can understand why you would go the other way, because he’s been a great player, and one I think everyone would like to see fully recovered and playing, not least his team mates.

  3. If Flannery is fully fit I agree it's a risky call to invest a lot of gametime in him at the expense of Best/Cronin because he might not return to form that makes him a worthwhile inclusion in the squad – but if he is 100% fit to play in August are you saying we should not invest any gametime in him to see how he goes? I certainly wouldn't agree with that stance, but I'll admit he'll have a big ask on his hands to get back into the kind of form/sharpness he had before his long layoff. However, even if he only showed signs of progress in that regard before getting on the plane I'd still take him ahead of Varley, we have some group games where he can make more progress in that department.I think it's a very significant factor you mention with Hayes as being good to have around the squad compared to Buckley, that's certainly something in his favour in that call. But likewise Flannery brings something to the squad that is pretty unique among our forwards, I don't think any of the others have the real 'snarl' for want of a better word that you need a player to display to his fellow pack members at certain times in a match. No doubt there are leaders there like O'Connell and Best and Heaslip but they tend to lead by doing rather than give the kind of aggressive attitude cues on the pitch that certain situations demand.For example, say we have a QF against South Africa, Flannery's attitude/leadership etc would be a serious asset and something I think would be sorely missing in that front row battle if Cronin or Best were playing instead.Do you know by the way what date the final squad of 30 will be/must be announced or submitted on?

  4. Hi Czarak –don’t get us wrong, we’re not saying there’s no way we’d take Fla under any circumstances, more that realistically it’s probably going to be too big an ask for him to get up to the level required. If he was fully fit, has a full pre-season and is flying around the training paddock like a man looking to make up for lost time you’d be mad not to play him in august – but two years out is so long, I wouldn’t underestimate how difficult it would be to come back to even provincial level after all he’s been through (and he is now 33). Perhaps we should review when we get an update on whether he’s likely to get the same pre-season as the rest of the lads.There’s no doubt we’ll miss him if he doesn’t make the cut – his ‘snarl’ is one thing, but it’s his ability to suddenly switch to being a dead-eyed technician at lineout time that has made him so great!Oh, and 50 man squad will be announced some time this month, and the final squad goes to the IRB on August 22.

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