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5 Things The Ireland Side To Face Fiji Tells Us About Andy Farrell's World Cup Plans

5 Things The Ireland Side To Face Fiji Tells Us About Andy Farrell's World Cup Plans
By Colman Stanley Updated
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Generally, the Autumn games against the likes Fiji or Samoa, are seen as an opportunity for widespread experimentation. For Saturday, however, Andy Farrell has opted for an Ireland 23 that is light in the way of fringe squad players.

10 out of the starting 15 are either first-choice - of those available - or practically nailed on to make the 2023 to travel to France in 2023, barring injury.

This strategy from the Irish selectors, and the names they have chosen for Saturday, give us a few clues towards Andy Farrell's plans for France 2023, which he have deciphered below into more coherent ideas.

The Vast Majority Of The Squad Is Decided

Farrell has put forward an unusually strong XV to face Fiji, with a lot focus now firmly on working with combinations, and getting the few lucky back-up players game time in a close to first choice XV.

Despite being part of the squad during the week, the likes of Mike Lowry, Scott Penny, Calvin Nash, Gavin Thornbury, Caolan Blade, and Dave Heffernan - most of whom would normally of got a shot in the weakest Autumn game - are all deemed as surplus to requirements.

Roughly 80-85% of the 2023 Rugby World Cup is as good as decided, and Andy Farrell is not wasting valuable international game-time on players with outside chances of making the squad.

5 November 2022; Caelan Doris of Ireland during the Bank of Ireland Nations Series match between Ireland and South Africa at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin. Photo by Seb Daly/Sportsfile

The 'Big 3' Is Now The 'Big 4' At Centre

Stuart McCloskey's 27 minutes against South Africa was brief, but proved that he can do what he does on the  Champions Cup stage, at the highest level of rugby.

His ball-carrying and offloading attributes are particularly valuable, and are the type of skills that can lead directly to line breaks and points.

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The highlight of his cameo showed him bowling over three Springbok defenders, and was a stark reminder that despite the guile of Ringrose and the size of Aki and Henshaw, what McCloskeys brings is different.

With Ciarán Frawley and Jimmy O'Brien both looking to make next year's squad, and both covering centre, there is a chance that Farrell may opt to bring just three out-and-out 12s/13s.

Robbie Henshaw is the best centre in Ireland and will still be in 2023, while Ringrose is invaluable due to his ability to play on the wing.

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It offers up the question; should Bundee Aki be worried about his place next Autumn?

18 November 2017; Stuart McCloskey of Ireland is tackled by Ben Volavola of Fiji during the Guinness Series International match between Ireland and Fiji at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin. Photo by Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile

Jimmy O'Brien Is In Pole Position For A Utility-Back Slot

The role of the utility back, a position held in recent times by Jordan Larmour and Keith Earls, is one that holds a high value in a tight squad.

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Jimmy O'Brien's performance against South Africa has put him firmly at the top of the pile, over the aforementioned Earls and Larmour, if Farrell is indeed inclined to bring a utility back to France.

There is a chance he may not be needed, if four centres and a second specialist fullback are brought, meaning Saturday's game is even more crucial for O'Brien given that he is wearing the 15 jersey.

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With a good showing, he can help repair some of the damage done by poor games against the Bulls in the URC semi-finals, and against the Maori All Blacks during the summer, and prove that he is a not just a competent winger/centre, but also a worthy backup to Hugo Keenan.

 Max Deegan Is Back In The Frame In The Backrow

With the squad size bumped up by two for the 2023 World Cup, it gives coaches scope to add to what were considered 'problem areas' when picking a travelling party.

Most teams will more than likely add an additional prop, while many will be bringing six half-backs to France.

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Another option is to take six backrows, as opposed to the usual five, given the attritional nature and the importance of the position.

Peter O'Mahony, Caelan Doris, Jack Conan, and Josh van der Flier are all on the plane, leaving a host of pretenders scrapping it out for two potential slots.

Nick Timoney, Cian Prendergast, Ryan Baird, and Gavin Coombes, and Max Deegan are the front-runners, while Scott Penny, John Hodnett, and Alex Kendellan will all feel that they have outside chances of making the plane.

After a lengthy injury, where he watched many of the players above shoot past him in the pecking order, Max Deegan is back in an Ireland squad and primed to win his second cap. With Gavin Coombes dropped from the squad and Ryan Baird injured, he will be very aware of the importance of his showing off the bench against the Fijians.

8 February 2020; Max Deegan of Ireland during the Guinness Six Nations Rugby Championship match between Ireland and Wales at Aviva Stadium in Dublin. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

Jeremy Loughman Is Now Firmly The Third Choice Loosehead

Admittedly, this was known before the team was announced, but given that Loughman has been handed a start in what is a very strong side, it is a clear sign of the faith the coaching staff have in the former Blackrock College prop.

His form has improved drastically over the past year, while he has usurped Josh Wycherley at Munster and fended off a returning Dave Kilcoyne.

Kilcoyne was once on the road to pushing Cian Healy for Ireland's second-choice loosehead, but a lengthy injury put paid to those ambitions.

Given his past form, there may have been hope that Farrell would back him for Fiji, but Loughman is now that guy.

SEE ALSO: Stephen Ferris Praises Stuart McCloskey After Return To Ireland Side Ahead Of Fiji Clash

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