After keeping an extremely close eye on the Summer Series warm-ups, the two lads of Munster Haka have made some big calls as they were challenged with the task of picking what they believe would be Ireland’s strongest 23 man squad for the World Cup.
This was some seriously stressful stuff at times but they’ve now come to strong conclusions as to what they wanted to see.
At the end of this we will be asking you which team you thought was stronger so read closely!
Ronan Calvert – Mr Haka
01) Cian Healy
As the Leinster prop looks more and more likely to feature at the World Cup each week, the bulldozer was simply inexcusable despite his lack of game-time (and subsequently his form) as of late. Jack McGrath had a big chance to make the shirt his own but passed the opportunity up with average Summer showings.
02) Rory Best
Best is one of the first names on the teamsheet for a number of reasons and for none less than the experience and leadership that he offers to the pack. The Ulsterman’s rucking and work-rate is also in the mould of what makes a player of such importance, but that reassuring presence which he carries in particular makes him a great man to have despite the rising heat put on by his pacey and powerful challenger Sean Cronin
03) Mike Ross
The rock of the frontrow Ross is arguably Ireland’s most important player despite his limited contribution in the loose. The Corkman has been a blessing for Ireland over the last few years now since the retirement of John Hayes and offers undoubted solidarity to the scrum in a time when Ireland have struggled to produce any worthy competitors. This was no question.
04) Iain Henderson
(Rant incoming!) My first big call is here as I chose Ulster’s battering ram Iain Henderson as the lock rather than Joe Schmidt’s usual man in Devin Toner. The thinking behind this is based upon not only the work, power and skill around the field that is added by the switch but dare I say because of the lineout also. We’ve all heard countless arguments about how Devin Toner dominates in the air and is an excellent weapon for Ireland in the lineout but is it not all just a myth?
What comes with this giant frame is weight and as a result, Toner is not considered or used as a strong option to test opposition ball when they throw it in as he is difficult to quickly launch in the air. This means that he is not an option to contest and in contrast I feel that Henderson could add a better contest here on opponents ball. I doubt too many are disagreeing so far, as for me the point made is acceptable and honestly isn’t a huge part of the game anyway.
However, where it gets interesting is on an attacking lineout. Toner is not used a lot of the time to take the lineouts which becomes more and more evident each week for two reasons: 1 – he is difficult to lift and 2 – because he is the obvious man to contest due to his size.
Is he still a good lineout option? Yes as a decoy but is his benefit to the team here worth what we’re losing out on by not starting a shorter player when you weigh it all up? I don’t think so.
A decoy and a nuisance in the maul or a powerful ball carrier, aggressive rucker and a skilful operator – take your pick.
05) Paul O’Connell
Not in a mood to wax lyrical here. There really isn’t any need or words to describe this man.
06) Peter O’Mahony
Maybe O’Mahony like the majority of the team didn’t show his best in the Summer Series and the Munster captain will be feeling the pressure of Iain Henderson as a result. His aggression, leadership and ricking can not be overlooked however, and I’m sure he’ll not only come good, but better than ever, when the World Cup builds up to that crucial contest against the French.
07) Chris Henry
In the hope that Cian Healy is in top condition at the World Cup and with Henderson starting at lock, I believe that Ireland will have enough powerful runners to afford to drop the Tullow Tank Sean O’Brien. Henry offers a new dimension to the pack with his unique skill set and work-rate at the breakdown which should benefit Ireland to a larger extent than O’Brien would by offering more strength to the fray.
08) Jamie Heaslip
Heaslip has been ever present for Ireland for a number of years now and both his leadership & work rate is important to Ireland going into the World Cup. Would I pick Stander if he was available?? Probably…but there is no doubt that Heaslip is a definite starter for the time being.
09) Conor Murray
Some say Murray is the best scrumhalf in the world, and there’s no need for my opinion as a result, as to be put in that debate already speaks volumes about the Limerick man’s class. His box kicking has become an integral part of Schmidt’s plan and he also has a great eye for a try which is a nice knife to have in the drawer for the trip to England.
10) Johnny Sexton
A special talent that possesses a perfected skill set and kicking class but unfortunately, his form is shaky going into the tournament which is a real concern. Interestingly however, in my mind the pure quality of the player means that even when he is a 5/10, Sexton is Ireland’s best outhalf by quite a stretch, making him the most important squad member of all.
12) Robbie Henshaw
Pretty nailed on spot at 12 with young Robbie Henshaw having made the jersey his own in 2015 following an excellent Six Nations display. As a former fullback, the Connacht man is pacey and exciting but has been used as a crash ball 12 by Schmidt to date, something that I’d like to see vary this month to give a Ireland some extra attacking intent.
13) Jared Payne
I’m a critic of what Payne offers on attack but unfortunately there is no better option who gives more attacking threat but keeps the defensive standard set by the rock solid centre duo this year. For that reason he’s in my team.
11) Simon Zebo
So many options, so much stress and so many changes of faith on this one but Zebo is my man. He’s always had that’X-Factor’ and flair that they all ramble on about but I think he’s now progressed very nicely in camp Joe based on the Summer Series and has answered critics of his tackling and defensive commitment to make a much better player overall. If all goes to plan I believe Zebo will be a star of the World Cup.
14) Tommy Bowe
Starting Dave Kearney or Keith Earls came into real consideration as it did on the other wing but I’ve chickened out and played it safe with Tommy Bowe. The Ulster winger is world class (which is permanent) and is Ireland’s best defending winger in my opinion. I know what you’re thinking and yes, he did miss 5 tackles in a horrendous showing against England but he had a serious off day which doesn’t concern me. What does however, is the fact that he has failed to score a single try since November of last year.
Due to this, if I was coach I’d be taking a big gamble in hope of him coming into form just on time which would make him easily one of the top five most dangerous wingers in the competition. It’s a risk with a big return if all works out but at the end of the day, who else would you want defending Julian Savea’s wing in a World Cup final out of our crop of wingers?
15) Rob Kearney
Had you asked me a couple of weeks ago for my World Cup back three it could have been a little different but based on the Wales showing it appears that Kearney senior has got the kick up the arse he needed with the challenge of Simon Zebo and is ready to impress.
16) Sean Cronin
17) Jack McGrath
18) Nathan White
19) Donnacha Ryan
20) Sean O’Brien
21) Eoin Reddan
22) Ian Madigan
23) Keith Earls
Paul Hurley – Captain Controversial
1: Jack McGrath
I have picked Jack McGrath as I feel he brings much more than Cian Healy without the risk of fitness. The Young Leinster prop has excellent scrummaging ability as well as ball carrying and rucking. I feel Schmidt will stick with him due to his great performances in the Six Nations and because Healy hasn’t had a lot of games to build up his form.
2: Rory Best
I picked the obvious choice here as he is just nailed on and without injury he should and will most likely start every World Cup match.
3: Mike Ross
Again another person who seems nailed on as his scrummaging has risen him to the top of the pile in Ireland due to the fact that other provinces aren’t producing competitors for the No.3 shirt.
4: Donnacha Ryan
This was a very tough position as there was the choice of Iain Henderson and Devin Toner to choose from. I went with Ryan as his rucking ability matched with his aerial ability and his bulldog style approach in matches tips him above the other two who lack these abilities.
5: Paul O’Connell
Nailed on, no arguments just the best there is at what he does.
6: Peter O’Mahony
Although I see O’Mahony as nailed on he will have to be on top form to hold his jersey as Iain Henderson has been in unbelievable form recently. The Ulster native has yet to prove himself in green but he will sure keep the Munster captain on his toes. This is a good thing as it provides excellent cover in case the unthinkable happens (touch wood).
7: Sean O’Brien
The Tullow Tank should start every match due to the injury sustained by Tommy O’Donnell. He will of course keep one eye over his shoulder in case Ulster’s Chris Henry gets on form but otherwise the Carlow native is nailed on.
8: Jamie Heaslip
I hate to say it but Heaslip is nailed on and unless Schmidt tries O’Brien at 8 and Henry at 7 then the Leinster captain should and will be playing 8 at the World Cup. He has shown some form in the warm-ups but I really hope he can prove his worth at the World Cup after a disappointing couple of years in green.
9: Conor Murray
The Munster man is nailed on for the World Cup and Schmidt has used him sparcelly in the warm-ups as a result. I feel this tournament will be the one where Murray shows his class and proves he is one of the best scrum-halves in World Rugby.
10: Jonathan Sexton
Same situation as Murray as Schmidt does not want him to get injured. The Dublin man will be Ireland’s playmaker and will have to stay injury free for Ireland to have a successful tournament.
11: Simon Zebo
I was gonna pick Trimble for this spot but Schmidt decided against it so I pick the Munster man due to his performances in the warm-ups. He has impressed me both in attack and defense and has been thrown in as a 15 to replace Kearney which also meant the absence of in form Munster man Felix Jones who has done nothing wrong not to be picked.
12: Robbie Henshaw
The Connacht will be key to Ireland’s campaign with his great crash runs and his ability to make something out of every play. His relationship with Sexton will be important for Ireland to execute important back plays and fool opposing teams.
13: Jared Payne
The Ulster man provides as a great partner for Henshaw as he is a great crash runner and fantastic defensively. This is important when coming up against opponents like Bastareaud, Joseph and Nonu. Although he doesn’t have a fantastic try scoring record he makes up for it in his defensive capabilities.
14: Tommy Bowe
The Ulster is a fantastic try scorer and holds his own defensively which is why he should be nailed on to play all the World Cup games. Hopefully, he will provide plenty of tries as judging from the Six Nations Ireland struggled to get over the line against bigger sides.
15: Rob Kearney
Although he hasn’t performed well enough in recent months and doesn’t deserve the Green shirt over a lot of others he has a lot more experience and is just a better player than his next competitor Felix Jones. I think after the World Cup Kearney will struggle for a starting spot as there is talks of possibly Jared Payne moving in there or Simon Zebo if unable to get a place on the wing.
Thanks for reading.
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Ronan Calvert and Paul Hurley of Munster Haka.