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We Explore How Ireland Would Do At The World Cup With NO First Choice Players

We Explore How Ireland Would Do At The World Cup With NO First Choice Players
By Conor O'Leary
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Irish rugby fans were given a glimpse of some sort of nightmare with reports yesterday that Cian Healy may not be fit enough for the World Cup. We already know that his backup in the Irish jersey is good enough to contribute to a Six Nations winning team, but the question remains - are Ireland as well stocked in other positions?

What would happen if all over our first choice XV were struck down with injuries at the same time in a storyline that wasn't deemed good enough for Dream Team? How would Ireland recover and perform in the upcoming World Cup?


*Assumption that the last starting XV that played against Scotland is Ireland's first choice team.

Would things be much different?

Pool Game 1: Canada

Despite being on a nine match losing streak, Canada will be licking their lips at being able to have a crack at a weakened Ireland team shorn of their leaders. Ireland didn't convince in the World Cup warmups, but are confident of overcoming the Canadians.


Ireland's second string comfortably dispatched the Canadians in 2013, and that confidence helps them in this game. The Canadians put it up to Ireland early and take a 10-6 lead after half an hour. Georgia in the 2007 World Cup is mentioned in commentary a record 394 times.

A try from a rolling line-out maul for Chris Henry gave Ireland the lead before halftime, before some magic from Ian Madigan in setting up the on-fire Andrew Trimble opens the floodgates. This is why Trimble should be in the first choice time. Tries for Sean Cronin, substitute Dave Kilcoyne and a wonderful solo-try from Keith Earls seals the try-bonus win.

Pool Game 2: Romania


Buoyed by the confidence of beating Canada the previous week, Romania are swatted aside almost without worry. Paddy Jackson's virtouso performance gives Joe Schmidt some food for thought, with the weather and the strong Romanian scrum giving Ireland some problems. Jackson's boot gives Ireland a 19-0 lead at halftime with a great try from Craig Gilroy. When Romania score an intercept try though to start the second half- things get a little nervy. It takes the introduction of debutant Denis Buckley, who replaced Cian Healy at the last minute as Healy failed a fitness test hours before the squad deadline, to spark Ireland.

Buckley immediately solidifies the scrum against the tiring Romanians, and produces a 'you-have-to-see-it-to-believe-it' pass to release Jack Conan for Ireland's second. Buckley himself scores a try from an inch out after great forward progression. Craig Gilroy's step in the 80th minute ensures Ireland progress to tougher challenges with two bonus points out of two.

Pool Game 3: Italy


After shocking France in the first game with a 12-10 victory, Italy got away with a narrow victory against Canada in their second game but missed out on a bonus point. Even still, Italy are walking into this game with unheralded confidence.


What they don't expect is the ferocity of Schmidt's Ireland team who blitz the Italians with a quick wide-wide game that produces three tries in the opening ten minutes. The 10-12 combination of Paddy Jackson and Ian Madigan raised eyebrows when the team was announced - but the pair are cutting the Italians to ribbons. Each of the back three get on the scoreboard by halftime, and Keith Earls adds another before coming off at half time with the game won.

Simon Zebo continues the riot in the second half scoring a hat-trick and two back-heeled drop goals.

Pool Game 4: France

Ireland go into the game against France only needing a point after France's loss to Italy. It's a good thing too as the French produce their one annual good performance to walk through an over-confident Ireland team that has been brought back down to earth.

The loss of the leadership in Rory Best, Paul O'Connell, and Johnny Sexton is showing clearly here, and Ireland look lost without leadership. The teams go into the half-time break down 25-0 after five tries to Mathieu Bastareaud, who is playing as if he was Marshawn Lynch.


Jack McGrath, Jordi Murphy, Zebo and Felix Jones all step up to the challenge in the second half, and Ireland restore some pride to narrowly lose 31-22, with Madigan's kicking being unusually wayward. That said, if it weren't for Madigan's confidence in the final minute to chip over the French defense on his own line - Ireland wouldn't have scored the fourth try with Jones to secure top spot.

Quarter-Finals: Argentina

Ireland are start the quarterfinal against Argentina in a very nervous fashion. The wait of history is counting against Ireland's second string, who are badly missing the calming influence of Paul O'Connell.


Drop goals from Nicholas Sanchez give Argentina an early 12-6 lead, and the Irish pack is struggling with the ferocity of Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe and Agustin Creevy. The Jackson and Madigan combination starts to spark Ireland into the game, but the domination that Argentina have at the breakdown is telling.

Only when Tommy O'Donnell comes on with 20 minutes to go that the momentum starts to turn, and it's his crucial clearout after a Madigan break that prevents another turnover and allows Jackson to kick through for Trimble to score in the corner to bring the scores to within a point with five minutes to go. Madigan narrowly misses the conversion from out wide when it hits both posts and doesn't go over.

Just when time is running out, Madigan redeems himself with a drop goal to win the game 15-12 with the last kick of the game. Ireland are through to the semi-finals of a Rugby World Cup for the first time in their history.

Semi-Finals: England

It appears the emotional wringer of the Argentinian victory proves that the semi-final against hosts England was a step too far for the second-stringers. Perhaps if Johnny Sexton's guideness was available, or O'Connell or Peter O'Mahony's inspirational passion infecting the rest of the team it might have been different.

Needless to say, Stuart Lancaster has managed to find ways to cut through Ireland in one of the most devastating losses that Ireland have experienced since that New Zealand loss in 2013.

It's best not to go into the heartbreaking loss. At the very least the Irish public can lament and dream what would have happened had the front-liners not been all unfortunately injured in a storyline so strange that it wouldn't have been included in Dream Team.

The point is though that Ireland's second string would still be very competitive should the worst come to the worst. Ireland have talent throughout the squad - but the leadership would be the major factor that is being missed. It also highlights the favourable route to the semi-final that this Irish team has been tasked with, as long as they win the group to avoid being in the same half as South Africa and New Zealand.

See Also: If The Rugby World Cup Was Drawn Today, It Wouldn't Be So Kind
See Also: Ireland's 45-Man Preliminary Squad For Rugby World Cup Squad Announced
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