• Home
  • /
  • Rugby
  • /
  • Irish Rugby's Depth Means Quality Will Be Left Behind

Irish Rugby's Depth Means Quality Will Be Left Behind

Conor O'Leary
By Conor O'Leary
Share this article

(Click on the image for a bigger resolution)

Irish Rugby Depth Chart

Irish Rugby Depth Chart

Irish rugby has never been in a better place. With Ireland up to 3rd in the world rankings after a fantastic November series, hopes are high for a fantastic 2015. Much of Ireland's success in recent times has been without a raft of key players, underlining the depth that Ireland have accumulated under Joe Schmidt.

With the Rugby World Cup on the horizon this year, there is much competition for places just to make the Irish squad. Here is a handy depth chart for you to follow along during 2015, to see who is likely to make the squad, and with what role.

The World Cup squad size is 31. Given that a normal squad could consist of 36 or 37 players, there will be a number of regulars who will be disappointed once the squad is announced.

The Depth Chart is decided based on history - selections that Schmidt has made himself, with a secondary factor being form and injuries.

1 Loosehead

1. Cian Healy - Starting
2. Jack McGrath - Bench
3. Dave Kilcoyne - In RWC Squad
4. James Cronin
5. Denis Buckley
6. Callum Black

Cian Healy is the de facto starter, with Jack McGrath the definitive back-up. Dave Kilcoyne is still ahead of James Cronin in Munster, but it's very close. It's worth noting that Kilcoyne is currently injured, so Cronin has a chance to leapfrog him. Kilcoyne does have a lot of credit stored in the bank after his star turn against Georgia.


Denis Buckley's form has put him on the radar, and he might earn a call up for the Wolfhounds for the game against the Saxons at the end of the month.

2 Hooker

1. Rory Best - Starting
2. Sean Cronin - Bench
3. Richardt Strauss - In RWC Squad
4. Duncan Casey
5. Damien Varley
6. Mike Sherry
7. Rob Herring

There were only 3 hookers named in the squad last November, with a clear pecking order established between them. If Richardt Strauss can get a run of games under his belt without injury, he could challenge for Sean Cronin's spot at Leinster and therefore the Irish bench.


Casey has been in great form since taking over from Sherry and Varley, who are both almost ruled out through injury. Casey's form means he is the clear 4th choice.

3 Tighthead

1. Mike Ross - Starting
2. Martin Moore - Bench
3. Nathan White - In RWC Squad
4. Rodney Ah You
5. Tadhg Furlong
6. Declan Fitzpatrick
7. Stephen Archer

Martin Moore's unfortunately timed injury has cost him his chance of competing with Mike Ross for the starting job. His return this week keeps him as his national back up, with White's chance to impress taken away through injury while Matt O'Connor has been reluctant to trust young Tadhg Furlong despite a host of impressive showings.


Rodney Ah You has done himself a few favours with his form recently, and suddenly Ireland have a few options at a former problem position. Furlong will be a long term answer, but one senses that Schmidt is a big fan of Nathan White.

4 Second Row

1. Devin Toner - Starting
2. Iain Henderson - Bench
3. Dave Foley
4. Donnacha Ryan
5. Donncha O'Callaghan

Devin Toner is the prototypical loosehead lock - excellent at the lineout and full of work ethic. Henderson is so highly rated by the Irish management that his inclusion appears to be guaranteed. His ability to cover blindside should ensure his inclusion in the World Cup squad barring an injuries.


Dave Foley is the closest to break through, and if Schmidt decides to take 5 locks, Foley will be next in line. O'Callaghan's international dreams appear to be over, and Donnacha Ryan's injury woes show no signs of easing in time for the World Cup.

5 Second Row

1. Paul O'Connell - Starting
2. Dan Tuohy - In RWC Squad
3. Mike McCarthy
4. Mick Kearney
5. Quinn Roux

Paul O'Connell is the first name on the plane. The inspirational captain is an automatic pick, while Dan Tuohy's ability will see him as the final lock in the squad. His nous in the trenches sets him out from Dave Foley.


Mike McCarthy hasn't re-discovered his form from his Connacht days, while Connacht pair Mick Kearney and Quinn Roux - Irish qualified in early September, just in time for the World Cup - are both in great form and a big reason why Connacht are doing as well as they are.

6 Blindside

1. Peter O'Mahony - Starting
2. Rhys Ruddock - In RWC Squad
3. Iain Henderson - Bench
4. Robbie Diack
5. Kevin McLaughlin
6. Dominic Ryan
7. Jack Conan

Peter O'Mahony has developed a lot in the last 12 months, and is now a leader in the Paul O'Connell manic aggresive leading by example way. He's reduced the number of hot-headed penalties that he used to give away, and has become a nightmare for opposition flankers at the breakdown. Rhys Ruddock was outstanding covering for Chris Henry at openside, but he's best position is blindside.


Henderson is close, especially with his locking ability, and Robbie Diack is always there or thereabouts in Schmidt squads. Kevin McLaughlin was in the Irish team that ran New Zealand close, but injuries and the form of Rhys Ruddock have made his 2014 one to forget. Dominic Ryan and Jack Conan are next in line, but their international prospects improve a lot after the world cup.

7 Openside

1. Sean O'Brien - Starting
2. Chris Henry - Bench
3. Rhys Ruddock - In RWC Squad
4. Jordi Murphy
5. Tommy O'Donnell
6. Dominic Ryan
7. Sean Dougall

Sean O'Brien is one of the best flankers in the world. The combination of his ball carrying ability with O'Mahony's breakdown work and Jamie Heaslip's work ethic should give Ireland a fantastic balance across the back row. Chris Henry has leapt up in quality since Schmidt arrived for Leinster, and is a more than capable reserve on the bench.

Jordi Murphy and Tommy O'Donnell are unfortunate victims of the small squad although any injury to the back row and both could come in very quickly.

8 No. 8

1. Jamie Heaslip - Starting
2. Peter O'Mahony - Starting
3. Jordi Murphy
4. Robin Copeland
5. Roger Wilson
6. Jack Conan

Jamie Heaslip has been the starter for so long that it's hard to know who would step into his shoes should an injury happen. I assume Peter O'Mahony would move to the back of the scrum with Rhys Ruddock coming in, but Jordi Murphy has stepped up for Leinster in any game that Heaslip has been rested for.

Robin Copeland was exceptional for Cardiff last season, and was the star of the Emerging Ireland tour last summer. His chances have been reduced behind CJ Stander and Peter O'Mahony at Munster.

9 Scrumhalf

1. Conor Murray - Starting
2. Eoin Reddan - Bench
3. Kieran Marmion - In RWC Squad
4. Isaac Boss
5. Luke McGrath
6. Paul Marshall

Conor Murray is one of the most improved players in World Rugby in the last 2 years. So much so, that it's not crazy to put him in the conversation for the world's best 9. Eoin Reddan seems to produce his best rugby coming off the bench to provide impetus for Schmidt's teams, while Marmion's form for Connacht keeps getting better and better.

If Luke McGrath gets some meaningful gametime soon for Leinster, he could sneak his way into contention, but the likelihood of O'Connor trusting him seems low.

10 Outhalf

1. Johnny Sexton - Starting
2. Ian Madigan - Bench
3. Ian Keatley
4. Paddy Jackson
5. JJ Hanrahan
6. Jack Carty

Johnny Sexton's importance to Ireland can't be understated. The real battle will be for his understudy job. It's unlikely that Schmidt will take 3 outhalves to the World Cup, leaving Ian Madigan in pole position. Keatley's form has pushed him ahead of Jackson, for now. Jackson is more than capable enough to pull back the difference between himself and Keatley, but I think that Madigan's versatility will help him in this instance.

JJ Hanrahan has fallen victim to Keatley here again, but his name is one to watch for the future.

11 Winger

1. Andrew Trimble - Starting
2. Luke Fitzgerald - Bench
3. Simon Zebo
4. Craig Gilroy
5. Keith Earls

Andrew Trimble was Ireland's best player in 2014. His untimely injury gives others a chance, but Schmidt's historical reluctance to select Zebo before may help Trimble. Luke Fitzgerald has been in outstanding form since his return from injury. He's missed out on World Cup selection in the previous two competitions, but his form is too good to be ignored, and his ability in the outside centre position is too good to ignore.

Unfortunately, that means that Simon Zebo is on the outside looking in.

12 Inside Centre

1. Gordon D'Arcy - Starting
2. Robbie Henshaw - Starting
3. Ian Madigan -Bench
4. Stuart Olding
5. Luke Marshall
6. Noel Reid
7. Fergus McFadden
8. Stuart McCloskey
9. Dave McSharry

Ireland aren't short of inside centre options, with Madigan and Henshaw able to cover the position. D'Arcy is still the front runner, and must be favourite to start the 6 Nations, especially with Johnny Sexton ruled out of the first game. Schmidt values D'Arcy's experience and that should see him selected as the only natural 12 in the squad.

Ulster's three young 12s are the future, but the presence of all 3 of them is hindering each one as all try to get gametime for their native province. Noel Reid did well in the summer tour, and Leinster have looked a better side when he is in the team.

13 Outside Centre

1. Robbie Henshaw - Starting
2. Luke Fitzgerald - Bench
3. Jared Payne - In RWC Squad
4. Darren Cave
5. Fergus McFadden

In Henshaw and Fitzgerald, Ireland's two in form players are both starring in the outside centre positions. With Jared Payne's class also involved, there is a strong likelihood that all three will be involved. All three are versatile enough to cover other positions if necessary, which will be key in the smaller 31 man squad.

14 Winger

1. Tommy Bowe - Starting
2. Fergus McFadden
3. Dave Kearney
4. Andrew Conway
5. Darragh Leader

Tommy Bowe is Ireland's premier winger. He is truly world class, and is not only a great finisher, but his work rate and ability to create space for others sets him apart. Both Fergus McFadden and Dave Kearney gave a star turn for Ireland in the Six Nations last year, but with Bowe, Trimble and Fitzgerald back, they are the most likely victims of the 31 man squad. McFadden's versatility is a positive for him, but I can't find a space for him in the squad.

15 Full-Back

1. Rob Kearney - Starting
2. Jared Payne - In RWC Squad
3. Felix Jones
4. Darragh Leader

Felix Jones managed to make the 23 for the November series, but he's another unfortunate casualty of the small squad rules. Kearney has been Ireland's first choice full back since 2009, while the majority of Ireland fans think that Jared Payne's best position is fullback.

Join The Monday Club Have a tip or something brilliant you wanted to share on? We're looking for loyal Balls readers free-to-join members club where top tipsters can win prizes and Balls merchandise

Processing your request...

You are now subscribed!

Share this article

Copyright © 2024. All rights reserved. Developed by Square1 and powered by PublisherPlus.com