Playing Them Into Form

Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaahhh! *stretches arms* well, that was a fun summer vacation wasn’t it? The World Cup is very nearly upon us, and we’re beginning to get pretty excited about it all. There are only four warm-up games to go before it all starts, and what could possibly go wrong in those, eh? Eh, Geordie? Wally?? Whatever about the wisdom of playing three tough warm-ups and Scotland, surely surely they can’t go as badly as in years past? We have to negotiate:

  • Wales (away)
  • Scotland (home)
  • Wales (home), followed by squad selection announcement
  • England (away)

and two of those fixtures are the ones Joe Schmidt has lost in the Six Nations. While we look a cut below the Southern Hemisphere giants, we’ve been lucky enough to land in a Northern Hemisphere-heavy half of the draw – if we beat France, it’s Argentina (no gimme, but surely beatable) and then potentially England or Wales to get to a final. But that’s getting ahead of ourselves.

Ireland have a pretty settled squad and the vast chunk of the Test 23 are assured of their places. There will be some jockeying over tackle bag-holding slots (with one major positional exception – see below) but we are finding it tough to drum up OUTRAGE over the identity of the 31st guy to go. We’re going to think about how Ireland will get on in terms of a series of questions around the first choice 23 and preview accordingly:

  • Front Row: in the first RWC of the eight-man bench era, an extra slot has been added. We’ll look at this one first
  • New Willie John: Iain Henderson was the outstanding Irish player in the Pro12 post-last years 6N and his cameos in that tournament were of a high quality. We think it’s getting to the point where you simply have to pick him. Where though? Big Dev has quietly been one of Ireland’s most consistent players of the Schmidt era, and POM has been a critical component of the backrow. We’ll think about how we might use Henderson best
  • Backrow: four years ago, we had to pick three from Wally, Fez, SOB and Heaslip .. until Wally crocked himself in the warm-ups. Now we have to pick three from O’Mahony, Henry, O’Brien and Heaslip, all of whom have been selected when fit by Schmidt. Oh yeah, and there is Henderson as well.
  • Sexton and ….?: Jonny Sexton is far and away the best outhalf in Ireland, but the identity of his backup is still murky. Unlike in 2007, when Paddy Wallace and Geordan Murphy (!) would be assured of zero minutes when it mattered, Sexton’s increasing injury-proneness and Schmidt’s pro-active use of the bench means Wee Jacko, Mad-dog or even Ian Keatley might have a key role to play in this tournament
  • Wing competition: for the likes of Luke Roysh, Andy Trimble, Zeebs, Little Bob and Craig Gilroy, the possibilities for the tournament range from left at home kicking heels to Test starter. This position is where Schmidt has the most options, and it would seem only Tommy Bowe is guaranteed squad selection. Who should go?

We’ll be back tomorrow to talk about the props – feel welcome to give us your thoughts below, and preview the best OUTRAGE moment from the Indo’s Twitter.