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Opinion: A Radical Ireland XV That Would Trouble The All Blacks

Joe Schmidt Ireland

New Zealand swept Australia aside on Saturday to break the record for the number of consecutive test wins in rugby union. Next up is Ireland in Chicago, with few giving Joe Schmidt’s side any real chance of upsetting the odds.

During his tenure with Ireland, the Kiwi coach has been renowned for tailoring the game plan to challenge the opposition. With months to plan for these two ties against the All Blacks, he likely has something up his sleeve.

New Zealand were stretched by Australia at times, and that is something from which Ireland must learn. A playmaker at 12 is a must, and having the weapons out wide to push home a front-foot advantage would go a long way.

Equally, playing a possession game is essential. The All Blacks can hurt you from anywhere with ball in hand. To dumb it down, you simply limit the amount of time they have on the ball.

Here, we compile a somewhat radical Irish XV that could trouble the World Cup champions.

15. Simon Zebo

Rob Kearney is past his best. His influence in the blue of Leinster and the green of Ireland has waned, and defensive mistakes – such as his failure to take down Nemani Nadolo on Sunday – leave doubts surrounding his international future.

Over the past year, the defensive side of Zebo’s game has immensely improved, while his positioning has grown to a standard of an international fullback. His showing at Thomond Park on Saturday suggests he could be the man to wear the number 15 jersey for Ireland.

Simon Zebo Munster Glasgow

11. Tommy Bowe

There would most definitely a temptation to pick Matt Healy, were the Connacht flyer fully fit. The other form wingers in Ireland at present are Darren Sweetnam, Cian Kelleher and Niyi Adeolokun.

However, marking Julian Savea is no place for a debut winger, so we’re going with the tried and tested here.

LONDON, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 27: Tommy Bowe of Ireland attempts to beat Ovidiu Tonita of Romania during the 2015 Rugby World Cup Pool D match between Ireland and Romania at Wembley Stadium on September 27, 2015 in London, United Kingdom. (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)

13. Garry Ringrose

Ringrose has shown hunger, determination and skill so far this season, as his stock continues to rise. Being thrown in at the deep end in Chicago would be a big ask, but there is little reason to suggest that he cannot thrive there.

Leinster Rugby Squad Training, Rosemount, UCD 12/9/2016 Gary Ringrose Mandatory Credit ©INPHO/Ryan Byrne

12. Robbie Henshaw

Australia’s Reece Hodge at 12 hurt New Zealand on Saturday. This shows a creative footballer at first centre can cause the All Blacks problems. Henshaw will start, the only question is whether that is at 12 or 13. There is a role to be carried out, and Henshaw is the man to do it.


11. Craig Gilroy

Schmidt tends to go for a bigger winger who is strong in the air. Dave Kearney and Andrew Trimble often get preferential treatment to that end. While the pair in question are best suited to chase Conor Murray’s box kicks, this may not prove the best tactic against the All Blacks.

If there is only one take away from the Rugby Championship, it is that a territorial game will not work against New Zealand. If they have the ball, they will hurt you.

Gilroy is arguably the form winger in the country at present and deserves a shot.

Craig Gilroy Ulster

10. Jonathan Sexton

Paddy Jackson ably deputised in South Africa, and Joey Carberry is setting the world alight at Leinster. However, when fully fit, Sexton is untouchable.

Guinness PRO12, RDS Dublin 23/9/2016 Leinster vs Ospreys LeinsterÕs Jonathan Sexton scores a try Mandatory Credit ©INPHO/Billy Stickland

9. Conor Murray

Luke McGrath is improving rapidly and is beginning to look like a top class scrum-half. He can move the ball quickly, and Ireland will need to stretch the All Blacks with speed. However, an experienced head will be needed to deal with TJ Perenara, so Murray gets the nod, but will need to hasten his distribution.


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8. Jamie Heaslip

The Leinster captain’s career was on a downward trajectory for a number of seasons, but the emergence of CJ Stander for Ireland has forced him to up his game. Heaslip’s form has been a revelation for Leinster this season and he will offer leadership from the back row.

Ireland Rugby Tour South Africa 2016 3rd Test Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium Port Elizabeth 25/6/2016 South Africa Springboks vs Ireland Ireland’s Jamie Heaslip Mandatory Credit ©INPHO/Billy Stickland

7. Josh van der Flier

Whether Steve Hansen goes with Ardie Savea or Sam Cane, New Zealand will have one of the world’s best opensides on the field. Ireland need a specialist seven, and Van der Flier has been immense for Leinster. A traditional ball-fetcher is what is needed, and the 23 year-old is the best option available.

Guinness PRO12, RDS, Dublin 23/9/2016 Leinster vs Ospreys Leinster's Josh van der Flier Mandatory Credit ©INPHO/James Crombie

6. Peter O’Mahony

Blindside flanker will be one of the toughest positions for Schmidt to call. Arguably, it is being contested by CJ Stander, Sean O’Brien and Peter O’Mahony. The Munster captain gets it for us. Judging by his display on Saturday, he is back to his very best.

European Rugby Champions Cup Round 2, Thomond Park, Limerick 22/10/2016 Munster vs Glasgow Warriors Munster's Peter O'Mahony applauds the crowd as he leaves the pitch Mandatory Credit ©INPHO/Tommy Dickson

5. Iain Henderson

It is a tough call to leave out Ultan Dillane, but Henderson will be eager to make up for lost time and could make a very strong case to start for the Lions this year. The 24-year-old offers so much more than your traditional lock, and Ireland will need him at the top of his game to live with this Kiwi pack.

Iain henderson Ulster

4. Devin Toner

Mr. Reliable for Leinster and Ireland, Toner is the go-to jumper at the line-out. He has maintained his high work-rate around the field recently, and Ireland will need a strong presence up against Sam Whitelock and Brodie Retallick.

Ireland Rugby Tour South Africa 2016 1st Test Newlands Capetown 11/6/2016 South Africa Springboks vs Ireland Ireland’s Devin Toner Mandatory Credit ©INPHO/Billy Stickland

3. John Ryan

Joe, we need to talk about John Ryan.

While all the hype for the Ireland tighthead position has focused on Mike Ross and the future of Tadhg Furlong, Ryan has been making waves with Munster. The 28-year-old was not as effective at loose-head, but his switch to the other side of the scrum has worked wonders. Munster bullied Glasgow at the scrum on Saturday, and this was down to Ryan.

Dominance at scrum time would go a long way to unsettling the All Blacks.

John Ryan Munster

2. Rory Best

Captain and hooker Rory Best will bring experience, and his starting position is not under threat.


1. Jack McGrath

The headache of Leo Cullen is shared with Joe Schmidt, as McGrath’s personal duel with Cian Healy makes for a difficult decision. We’re giving McGrath the nod.

Ireland Rugby Tour South Africa 2016 1st Test Newlands Capetown 11/6/2016 South Africa Springboks vs Ireland Ireland’s Jack McGrath is tackled by Springboks Lwazi Mvovo Mandatory Credit ©INPHO/Billy Stickland

Brian Barry, Pundit Arena.

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Author: The PA Team

This article was written by a member of The PA Team.