Joe Schmidt will have to re-evaluate his squad before the Six Nations.
Although Ireland may have crashed out of the World Cup, Irish rugby has never been in such a strong position. Never before has Ireland had as much depth in their squad, or attracted as many supporters.
Indeed, while Paul O’Connell may have retired and the likes of Rory Best coming toward the end of their careers, Ireland have a core group of young talented players ready to step into the void.
1. Iain Henderson
For some time now, Ulster supporters have been singing the praises of Iain Henderson. Although he has seen much game time at blind side flanker, Paul O’Connell’s retirement means that Henderson will go straight into the Irish second row.
Henderson could become the ideal partner for Devon Toner, as his aggression and dynamism contrasts with the the Leinster man’s natural ability at the line out. A strong showing in the Six Nations could see Henderson catapulted into contention for a place on the next Lions tour in 2017.
2. Johnny Sexton
Although Ireland have never had such depth at outhalf, Johnny Sexton remains head and shoulders above each of his rivals. Sexton’s importance to Ireland has been underlined by the manner in which the IRFU moved quickly to bring him back to Leinster after his sojourn at Racing Metro.
Sexton’s kicking game has been key to Ireland winning back to back Six Nations titles. However if Joe Schmidt chooses to adapt his strategy and adopt a wider game plan, Sexton has shown that he can also revel in the role as chief playmaker.
3. Conor Murray
Like his half back partner, Conor Murray remains the stand out option for Ireland at scrum half. At only 26 years of age, Murray has the ability to grow into one of Ireland’s key leaders ahead of the 2019 World Cup.
Although many have been critical of Murray’s inconsistency in the past, the Munster number nine is now one of Ireland’s reliable players. Like Sexton, Murray also has the skill set to transition his attributes from Schmidt’s current game plan to a more flexible approach.
4. Robbie Henshaw
This World Cup has seen Robbie Henshaw come of age in an Irish jersey. Dubbed for some time as the successor to Brian O’Driscoll, the pressure on Henshaw must have been intense.
Nonetheless, despite missing Ireland’s early fixtures against Canada and Romania, the Connacht centre became one of Ireland’s most dangerous players during their remaining World Cup fixtures.
Henshaw’s offload against Italy and break against France underlined his quality and illustrated that he is comfortable playing in a more dynamic role.
5. Marty Moore / Tadgh Furlong
At 35 years of age, it is safe to assume that Mike Ross’ time in an Irish jersey is coming to an end. Therefore it is expected that both Marty Moore and Tadhg Furlong will battle it out to take over from Ross as Ireland’s leading tight head.
With both players under 25 years of age, these two Leinster team mates have the potential to become key components of the Irish scrum for the next decade. However it would seem that Furlong is in pole position after being selected to go to the World Cup ahead of both Moore and Michael Bent.
Alan Drumm, Pundit Arena