Following the win over South Africa, Jonathan Fitzpatrick selects his XV to start for Ireland in the Rugby World Cup next summer.
With the beginning of the November internationals comes the beginning of Ireland’s World Cup cycle, as after this season they’ll be vying for the William Webb Ellis trophy across the water.
What fifteen are in pole position for those coveted starting spots?
1. Cian Healy
A call that is tighter than some may expect, Jack McGrath is fast developing into an extremely talented prop. With Healy out injured for the next few months, McGrath has a huge chance to grow into one of Europe’s best.
But for now, he isn’t quite at that level, and it’s too difficult for him to dislodge arguably the best loosehead in the world. Healy’s strength, scrummaging, carrying, and workrate would see him walk into any World Cup squad.
On the bench – Jack McGrath
2. Rory Best
Another currently out injured – Rory Best is a leader for Ireland. Excellent on the ground, he is a hugely influential figure in Ravenhill and indeed for the Irish Team.
A groundhog with an fantastic workrate, he’s sharpened his lineout skills too. He doesn’t have the explosive power of Sean Cronin, but is a more rounded performer than the dynamic Leinster hooker. His closest rival for the starting shirt could be Ricardt Strauss, should the South African’s return be successful, while Cronin remains the perfect bench option for hooker.
On the bench – Sean Cronin
3. Mike Ross
An unsung hero of the Irish team, the Rugby World Cup will likely be the great man’s swansong. Ross has transformed the Irish scrum, and we can now see it as a weapon like we never had before. A ‘scrum nerd’, Ross’s technique and attention to detail are key to the Irish surviving up front.
On the bench – Marty Moore
4. Devin Toner
It’s a close call between the Leinster lock and Iain Henderson, but Toner just shades it this time due to his lineout excellence, which I think could continue to compliment his second row partner.
Toner has developed hugely over the past two seasons and is hitting his prime. This could see him secure a World Cup starting spot, just ahead of Henderson. The tightest call to make, I’ve given the in-form Toner the nod on this one.
5. Paul O’Connell
The Irish captain isn’t to be dropped. He rolled back the years against South Africa, defeating long-term foe Victor Matfield. Another that may bow out after the competition, he’ll deservedly captain that XV and hopefully get the send-off he deserves.
On the bench – Iain Henderson
6. Peter O’Mahony
As dogged as they come, O’Mahony is an abrasive flanker with a never-say-die attitude and immense workrate. His return from injury is welcome, he’s become a big part of the Ireland set up.
He edges past Rhys Ruddock for the position, who although excellent, will find it hard to dislodge the Munster man. The outstanding candidate for Ireland’s next captain in my opinion.
On the bench – Rhys Ruddock
7. Sean O’Brien
Ireland have enjoyed huge success over recent times, and they’ve had to do that without Sean O’Brien. Before his injury, O’Brien transformed himself into a rounded 7, and one of the world’s best at that.
There are some excellent options competing for that jersey, Tommy O’Donnell, Jordi Murphy, Chris Henry all have their plaudits. But O’Brien on his day is terrifying, Ireland would welcome back this carrying option with open arms.
8. Jamie Heaslip
Having a great season, Heaslip will continue as Ireland’s incumbent number 8 for a long time to come. A rounded performer and all round athlete, he is mr. consistency for Leinster and Ireland.
On the bench – CJ Stander
9. Conor Murray
Crucial to Ireland’s success, Murray is now one of the best scrum halves in the world. He has stiff competition, but will fight it off. The Munster man forms half of the side’s heartbeat.
On the bench – Kieran Marmion
10. Jonathan Sexton
Is there any doubt? If there was, it was removed on Saturday. Ireland’s most important player. Now forming a dominant, powerful partnership with Conor Murray.
On the bench – Ian Madigan
11. Luke Fitzgerald
A risky or unpopular choice maybe, but when fit, Fitzgerald is one of our most dangerous players. As dynamic a player as we have -ball in hand, he has an excellent side step, runs fantastic support lines, is well equipped in defence, with a kicking game to boot.
More rounded than Zebo and Trimble, more spectacular than Dave Kearney and Keith Earls, he should be our choice for left wing if fully fit. His fitness is the question – can he keep it, and is he the same Fitzgerald that took Europe by storm at the age of 23?
12. Stuart Olding
I’ve gone for the Ulsterman at 12, with his impressive start to the season this year being only a glimpse of his potential. An extremely talented operator, he has a huge future ahead of him. Will the World Cup come too early for him, or can he breakthrough this season?
13. Robbie Henshaw
Not the next Brian O’Driscoll, but our next second centre. An assured start against South Africa is only the beginning. Composed and powerful, he wasn’t out of his depth. He’s only going to get better. A better centre than Jared Payne, he’ll wear the 13 jersey for the World Cup.
14. Tommy Bowe
A hero to Irish Rugby at this stage, Ryle Nugent expressing delight over any other players’ name just wouldn’t be quite the same.
15. Rob Kearney
An excellent athlete, he’s an important figure in the Irish camp and Irish team. An influential cool head from fullback, he’ll have a new challenge in Jared Payne. He’ll have to be at his best to keep Payne out, and Kearney at his best is an intimidating sight for any opposition.
On the bench – Jared Payne
Jonathan Fitzpatrick, Pundit Arena