The race to Japan heats up this weekend as Ireland prepare for their first World Cup warm-up game. For several players, it is a chance to impress in the fight to make the 31-man squad.
Across his career, Stephen Ferris played in two World Cups and one big battle is ongoing in his area of expertise. The back row options have been decimated after injuries to Dan Leavy and Sean O'Brien but that has opened the door for several prospects. Ferris thinks one, in particular, is ahead of the rest.
Speaking on the new Balls.ie sports podcast, 'The Buildup', Ferris cited Ulster's Jordi Murphy as the favourite to join Jack Conan, CJ Stander, Josh van der Flier and Peter O'Mahony in the back row.
If it comes down to it, I think I look at and say Josh van der Flier has had a lot of injuries over the past few years. What are the chances of him staying completely injury-free until the quarter-final of a World Cup? No niggle here or there along the way?
The only other stand-out seven, who has played consistently at seven, for me, is Jordi Murphy. I think if van der Flier went down injured and was out for a few weeks or the tournament, please god that does not happen, but I think Jordi Murphy is the only other seven with big-game experience to mix it at test rugby.
That's not to say Ferris is discounting the stiff competition.
"Tommy O'Donnell has fought back from a big injury. Does he have the pedigree? I think he does but he doesn't have the same exposure and opportunity as Jordi Murphy.
"Rhys Ruddock, I'm one of his biggest fans and he always produces in big games, look at the Leinster versus Glasgow final, he was superb. I think somebody like him could miss out because they can't play that seven role."
Both players still have an opportunity to make it into Joe Schmidt's ultimate panel. O'Donnell will win his first cap since 2016 this Saturday in a team captained by Rhys Ruddock.
This is the first of four pre World Cup games. After this weekend England and Wales home and away await. While success is important, For Ferris, what this really represents is a welcomed opportunity to generate momentum.
"The most important thing is, looking back on 2011, I was out for a number of months with a knee injury. I got back and got game time during those warm-up matches to that I was almost firing on all cylinders going into the World Cup. I feel some of the Irish players are in a similar position.
"Look at the Irish captain in Rory Best, he hasn't played in what feels like an eternity. He needs game time. He needs minutes under his belt. Johnny Sexton didn't play a huge amount of rugby, likewise Conor Murray.
"These four games you want to get wins of course, but it is more the combinations and getting guys hitting form."
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