Wednesday 20 February 2019

12 Ireland fringe players who are running out of time to claim place in World Cup squad

Clock ticking as fringe men who missed out on Six Nations glory look to force way into coach’s 31-man squad for autumn

Keith Earls, here being tackled by Nicolas Sanchez of Argentina, and Gordon D’Arcy (R) need to shine for their provinces in order to get into Joe Schmidt’s plansdominate
Keith Earls, here being tackled by Nicolas Sanchez of Argentina, and Gordon D’Arcy (R) need to shine for their provinces in order to get into Joe Schmidt’s plansdominate
Ruaidhri O'Connor

Ruaidhri O'Connor

As the celebrations of Ireland's Six Nations triumph continue, those on outside looking in stepped up their attempts to force their way into the equation.

Joe Schmidt's starting XV won't be involved in this weekend's Guinness Pro12 action as they take a deserved rest, but with just five regular-season games remaining, there is not much opportunity to catch the New Zealander's eye.

Although he is away on personal business, the coach's staff will be watching closely over the coming weeks and will have reports ready for a man who is unlikely to miss a trick even when he is on the other side of the world.

Ireland take on the Barbarians at Thomond Park on May 28 before re-assembling on June 29 to begin preparations for the World Cup.

They will play four warm-up games over the course of five weeks in August and September before kicking off their campaign on September 19 against Canada.

During that time, Schmidt will cut his squad to 31 for the tournament itself so the window of opportunity is narrow for those looking to get in.

So, what do they have to do?

1) DAVE KEARNEY

He damaged his cruciate knee ligament at the end of last season, and last year's Six Nations ever-present was forced to watch from the sidelines as his team-mates retained the title.

Competition for the wing slots is huge at present, and when Schmidt chose to drop Simon Zebo for the final game against Scotland, he had Kearney, Luke Fitzgerald, Fergus McFadden and Keith Earls to choose from. Fitzgerald got the nod and excelled, showing how hard it's going to be for those in the chasing pack.

Leinster's players have an advantage over their rivals in that they have next week's European Champions Cup quarter-final against Bath to showcase their talents, and potentially a semi-final and final as well.

Kearney knows Schmidt trusts him and has shown good form since coming back, he just needs to step up another level in those huge clashes to try and force the coach's hand.

2) DONNACHA RYAN

Injury has robbed the Munster second-row of almost two full seasons - he has never played for Schmidt.

He came back last week for the 'A' side but suffered a concussion that means his return will be interrupted this weekend and, with Munster out of Europe, he must bide his time for another fortnight.

What Schmidt needs to see from Ryan is a consistent run of games before the end of the season to get him up to speed before getting him in for an extended pre-season.

Undoubtedly one of Ireland's finest second-rows in a position lacking depth, he would be a welcome addition.

3) KEITH EARLS

He spent the last eight weeks training with Ireland but didn't feature in a match-day 23, but the elusive back will have benefited from the time spent learning Schmidt's ways.

A revitalised Earls is a boost for Munster coach Anthony Foley, and a run in the outside-centre jersey would go a long way to providing cover and competition for Jared Payne.

4) GORDAN D'ARCY

Can the inside-centre make one last push for the World Cup or is he set to finish an illustrious Ireland career on 81 caps?

Dropped from the squad midway through the Six Nations, the signs are ominous for half of Ireland's most famous rugby double-act, and Robbie Henshaw's ability to add a new dimension to the team's ball-carrying suggested the Wexford man's time may be up.

He badly needs to start all of Leinster's big games for the rest of the season, but there is no guarantee that Matt O'Connor will oblige given the 34-year-old sat on the bench for the duration of their win over Wasps.

5) TADHG FURLONG

At the other en of the scale is another Wexford man for whom the World Cup could come just too soon.

As D'Arcy was cut, Furlong was called up to the squad for the second half of the Six Nations and spent time working with scrum coach Greg Feek in November.

Schmidt has total faith in Mike Ross, a man he has started in every game of his tenure, but 22-year-old Furlong is highly rated and his time is coming.

If he can keep Ross out of the Leinster match-day 23, then he'll keep the pressure on.

6) KIERAN MARMION

Perhaps he was trying too hard, but the Connacht youngster played his way out of the Six Nations reckoning when lining out for the Wolfhounds in January and faces a battle to get back in.

While he has obvious attributes, Marmion's control is not at the level of his rivals for the jersey and he needs to convince Schmidt that he can dominate opponents over the course of a crucial period for the western province.

7) NATHAN WHITE

The New Zealand-born tighthead's back issues will be a worry for Schmidt, who selected him in his Six Nations squad with a view to using him.

White has been low on luck this season and would surely have featured in November when Rodney Ah You provided the back-up for Ross. He needs to get over this current injury and make his debut in the World Cup warm-ups.

8) RHYS RUDDOCK

So integral to Ireland's efforts in November, the Leinster flanker's broken arm came at just the wrong time and his delayed comeback meant that a late run at the Six Nations was off the table.

In his absence, Ireland's first-choice back-row grew in stature and he will have a real job on his hands to wrest the No 6 or 7 jersey back off Peter O'Mahony or Sean O'Brien.

9) CHRIS HENRY

He is recovering from the heart problem that struck him down before the win over South Africa, and Ulster are hopeful that he could be back before the end of the season.

Just being back is an achievement, but the flanker will be targeting a place in the squad if he can hit the ground running.

10) PADDY JACKSON

The Ulster fly-half has had a terrible run of injuries this season and he hasn't played for Ireland in more than a year, but he was just finding form when he dislocated his elbow in Toulon.

Second-choice last season, he has work to do to remind Schmidt and his coaches of his qualities and leapfrog Ian Keatley and Ian Madigan.

11) STUART OLDING

A fantastic runner of whom the coach is a big fan, Olding is in a battle for a place on the plane and needs to play regularly for Ulster over the course of the rest of the season, which is not easy at a province where inside-centres are 10-a-penny.

He provides an alternative type of No 12 to Henshaw - who can move out one place if needed - but needs to stay injury free and become the fulcrum of the Ulster backline to show he can take the next step.

12) ANDREW TRIMBLE

Another whose season has been wrecked by injury, Trimble's foot problem is a big worry for both player and coach and Schmidt will be hoping he can turn up for pre-season in full health to provide competition for Tommy Bowe.

So good last season, the Ulster man's cutting edge has been missed.

Irish Independent

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