Rugby

Predicting The 31-Man Ireland Squad For The 2019 Rugby World Cup

Predicting The 31-Man Ireland Squad For The 2019 Rugby World Cup

There's a different feeling around this Ireland squad than there was when the Grand Slam was won in 2009. It's one of a team which has only begun its journey rather than one which has reached the summit of its potential.

A major landmark on that journey is going to be next year's World Cup. Only 18 months away, there's already talk of Ireland being serious contenders to New Zealand's crown.

We've had a go at predicting who will populate Joe Schmidt's squad for the tournament in Japan. It is just a 31-man squad, so some big names will have to miss out.

Props

Looseheads:
Cian Healy (Leinster)
Jack McGrath (Leinster)

Tightheads:
Tadhg Furlong (Leinster)
Andrew Porter (Leinster)
John Ryan (Munster)

Who misses out: Stephen Archer, Marty Moore, Dave Kilcoyne, Finlay Bealham

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Cian Healy completed his return on form during this year's Six Nations. The Leinster prop has overtaken McGrath to become first choice for Joe Schmidt. Though, the battle for that number one jersey will be a close fought one between now and then.

When Tadhg Furlong was forced from the pitch against Italy, some thought Ireland's championship hopes had limped off with the Wexford man. Andrew Porter showed over the next 75 minutes and the subsequent game against Italy that there is depth below Furlong in the chart.

Hookers

Rory Best (Munster)
Sean Cronin (Leinster)
Niall Scannell (Munster)

Who misses out: Rob Herring, James Tracy

Rory Best followed up a vintage Six Nations campaign with reward from the IRFU: he was handed a new deal which runs out after the 2019 World Cup. If his form maintains over the next 18 months, the Ireland captain seems a near certainty for inclusion.

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Sean Cronin re-established himself in Joe Schmidt's thoughts during this Six Nations. Cronin epitomises what is needed from a player off the bench, he will always make an impact on the game.

Though, had it not been for an injury sustained in early January, it could have been Munster's Niall Scannell who was backing up Best rather than Cronin. If Scannell's injury problem clear up between now and next September, he could be on the plane to Japan.

Second rows

James Ryan (Leinster)
Iain Henderson (Ulster)
Tadhg Beirne (Munster from next season)
Ultan Dillane (Connacht)

Who misses out: Devin Toner, Kieran Treadwell, Quinn Roux

One of the few areas where Ireland were perhaps lacking in depth going into the Six Nations was in the second row. Donnacha Ryan departed for France, he was no longer an option. Just 21, James Ryan stepped into the gap and took his chance.

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Schmidt's second row options will be further boosted this summer when Tadhg Beirne returns to Ireland from Scarlets to pull on the red of Munster. Ireland had three European Player of the Year nominees in their Six Nations squad (Furlong, Murray and Sexton), Beirne would have made it four if he had been included by Schmidt. The 26-year-old also has the added appeal of being able to play in the back row.

Back rows

CJ Stander (Munster)
Peter O'Mahony (Munster)
Sean O'Brien (Leinster)
Dan Leavy (Leinster)
Jack Conan (Leinster)

Who misses out: Jordi Murphy, Josh van der Flier, Tommy O'Donnell, Jack O'Donoghue, Rhys Ruddock

The most competitive section of the Ireland squad for the tournament will almost certainly be the back row.

Dan Leavy stepped into the breach left by Sean O'Brien's injury, which prevented him from appearing in this year's Six Nations, and Josh van der Flier's season-ending injury sustained against France to establish himself as one Ireland's Players of the Tournament. If the openside continues the upward curve of his career, he will be tough to dislodge.

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O'Brien is one of Ireland's currently four world class players and a certainty for inclusion. Jack Conan, due to his ability to play blindside and number eight, gets the nod ahead of the unlucky Jordi Murphy, Josh van der Flier and Tommy O'Donnell.

Scrum-halves

Conor Murray (Munster)
Kieran Marmion (Connacht)

Who misses out: Luke McGrath, John Cooney

Kieran Marmion again showed his versatility - as he did against Australia in November 2016 - when he was forced into playing on the wing for the final minutes against England. It's the type of trait Joe Schmidt has surely noted and will appreciate. Marmion appears to be Schmidt's preferred back-up for Conor Murray ahead of Luke McGrath.

Out-halves

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Johnny Sexton (Leinster)
Joey Carbery (Leinster)
Ross Byrne (Leinster)

Who misses out: Ian Kearley, Tyler Bleyendaal, JJ Hanrahan

Barring an unfortunate injury, the first two names on this list appear nearly set in stone. The question then: who will be the third choice ten in the squad which travels to Japan?

Though he is yet to win an Ireland cap, Ross Byrne is playing plenty of rugby at out-half for Leinster - more than Joey Carbery. He's our selection to get the nod ahead of Ian Keatley and Tyler Bleyendaal, who is now qualified to play for Ireland.

Centres

Robbie Henshaw (Leinster)
Garry Ringrose (Leinster)
Bundee Aki (Connacht)
Chris Farrell (Munster)

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Who misses out: Sam Arnold, Rory Scannell, Stuart McCloskey

Like the back row, the battle for the centre spots in the squad will be highly competitive. Just two-and-a-half years on from the last World Cup, depth at 12 and 13 has hugely increased.

Henshaw and Ringrose appear certainties, along with Aki following a superb debut Six Nations from the Connacht player. Down to the final spot, Chris Farrell - Man of the Match - in his only Six Nations game against Wales - gets the nod.

Wingers

Keith Earls (Munster)
Jacob Stockdale (Ulster)
Andrew Conway (Munster)
Jordan Larmour (Leinster)

Who misses out: Adam Byrne, Darren Sweetnam, Craig Gilroy, Alex Wootton

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It will likely be the year of the World Cup before we see Keith Earls back action following the knee injury which he sustained against England. Earls was in the form of his life. Hopefully, that is form he can regain in time for Japan. At just 21, Jacob Stockdale will be a feature of the Ireland backline long beyond next year.

Both Conway and Larmour have the added appeal of being able to cover multiple positions. Conway can also play fullback, as can Larmour in addition to being an option at centre.

Fullback

Rob Kearney (Leinster)

Who misses out: Tiernan O'Halloran

Like Rory Best, Rob Kearney was given an extended contract following the Six Nations, one which lasts until after next year's World Cup. Though he will be 33 by the time it comes around, it certainly suggests that Kearney is in Joe Schmidt's thoughts for the tournament.

Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

See Also: How The Irish Players Rated Across The 2018 Six Nations

See Also: The Story Behind How Superfan Jennifer Got To Keep Peter O'Mahony's Six Nations Medal

PJ Browne
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