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Rugby World Cup 2023 Team Review: Ireland

Rugby World Cup 2023 Team Review: Ireland - Absolute Rugby

Matthew Buckland |

With the Rugby World Cup quickly approaching, it seems the right time to take a look at all of the teams heading into the tournament. So let’s take a look at the number 1 ranked team in the world, Ireland.

Ireland heading into the tournament

The World Rugby rankings really show just how good form Ireland are in as they head into the tournament. Since Andy Farrell took over this team at the start of 2020, Ireland have developed into the best team in the world.

In terms of impressive results, there is no better team than Ireland over the last two years. This team really began to show the world their talent towards the end of 2021 when they defeated New Zealand. Despite falling to France in the Six Nations last year, Ireland would have their best result in the history of Irish rugby.

Ireland became the first team to defeat the All Blacks in a test series in New Zealand in 29 years. It was the first time in the professional era of rugby that New Zealand had lost a test series on home soil and it was the perfect way for Ireland to show that they are one of the best teams in the world.

They backed it up in the Six Nations earlier this year, winning the Grand Slam with ease. Ireland’s home advantage over France was massive and they won every game by at least two scores. . But Ireland have even bigger wins. Beating South Africa and Australia in the Autumn internationals last year.

So it may seem like things are perfect in this Irish team. They are undoubtedly one of the best teams in the world. But Johnny Sexton has been the major talking point heading into the tournament and not for the right reasons.

His outbursts towards referee Jaco Peyper after the Champions Cup final earlier this year should earn the Fly-Half a ban, which will likely be known by the time you’re reading this. Sexton could miss some time in the tournament which will not be good.

The other major talking point about Ireland is Leinster’s struggles. The majority of this Irish team will be made up of Leinster player’s and Leinster disappointed in both the URC and the Champions Cup once again this season.

Interestingly, Ireland have gone for just two warm up games prior to the tournament. They are clearly looking to avoid injuries, with a game against Italy and then two weeks later, a game against England. In fact, this Irish team has a three week gap between their final warm up game and their first World Cup game.

Ireland’s team for the tournament

Similarly to France, Ireland have a pretty set team that Andy Farrell has developed over the last years. With few injury concerns, the majority of the team pick themselves based on quality and experience.

Their all-Leinster front row is one of the best in the world. Hooker is not as simple as you might think. Dan Sheehan and Ronan Kelleher are both brilliant options, with Sheehan being the more agile and mobile of the two. Porter and Furlong are definite starters and will be crucial to Ireland’s success.

The rest of the forward pack seems pretty set. Iain Henderson and Jack Conan will try their best to break into this team, but the forward pack seems to be set in stone. Considering all of the success that Ireland have had with these forwards, why would they change from that.

Scrum half is an interesting decision, because Jamison Gibson-Park had been the tone setter for this Ireland team. He seemed undroppable, until Andy Farrell dropped him for Connor Murray in the Six Nations earlier this year. But Gibson-Park does seem the most likely to start when the tournament begins because he just offers something different to Murray.

Johnny Sexton will undoubtedly be the team’s starting Fly-half later in the tournament, although Ireland are likely to begin the competition with Ross Byrne in the number 10 shirt. The centres are similarly set, although Bundee Aki and Stuart McCloskey provide excellent depth for this team.

The back three is quietly the strongest part of this team. It has speed, power, agility, passing, kicking and quality under the high ball. Much like the rest of this Irish team, there is a huge amount of depth in this Irish squad.

The majority of the team can handle a serious injury because this Irish squad has a huge amount of depth.

1.Andrew Porter- Leinster

2.Dan Sheehan- Leinster

3.Tadhg Furlong- Leinster

4.Tadhg Beirne- Munster

5.James Ryan- Leinster

6.Peter O’Mahony- Munster

7.Josh van der Flier- Leinster

8.Caelen Doris- Leinster

9.Jamison Gibson-Park- Leinster

10.Johnny Sexton- Leinster

11.James Lowe- Leinster

12.Robbie Henshaw- Leinster

13.Garry Ringrose- Leinster

14.Mack Hansen- Connacht

15.Hugo Keenan- Leinster

Who to look out for in this squad

Considering Johnny Sexton is going to have some form of ban and he is also 38 years old, it seems likely that his Leinster understudy Ross Byrne will have a big impact on this Irish team.

In the last few years, Ireland have struggled massively without Sexton, but it is hard to rely on a 38 year old when he is going to be targeted as much as Sexton. So Ross Byrne could be the perfect player to help guide this Irish side through the tournament.

Outside of Byrne, World Rugby Player of the Year Josh van der Flier will once again look to show why he won the award. This Irish backline does not have anyone as versatile or important as Van der Flier and so he needs to step up.

Andrew Porter is certainly a player to look out for at this tournament for multiple reasons. Porter struggled against Uini Atonio in the Champions Cup final and there is a good chance that match up could happen in just a few months’ time. But Porter is extremely powerful and a brilliant scrummager, so he will need to be at his best for Ireland to get past some of the bigger teams in the competition like France and South Africa. 

Ireland’s star studded attack relies on physicality upfront and Robbie Henshaw is the most important part of that. Henshaw is the most underrated player in this Irish team and he needs to be able to break through opposing lines in attack. Not only does it give Ireland a spearhead in attack, but it opens up gaps for the back three.

Ireland’s path to winning the tournament

Ireland have arguably the most difficult match up in the group stage, facing the number 3 and the number 5 teams in the world. They really only have one easy game in the group stage, opening up against Romania.

Tonga are a lot more dangerous than every before, with Ireland having to face Charles Piutau, Malakai Fekitoa, Israel Folau and Pita Ahki in a talented Tongan backline. They then have a week to prepare for the reigning world champions in what will likely decide the winner of the pool.

Thankfully for this Irish side, they have a rest week before facing Scotland in the final group stage of their tournament. Ireland have a very tough group stage and things get even more difficult in the quarter-final stages. They are most likely to face the All Blacks in the quarter-finals.

Things don’t seem to get much easier in the semi-finals, with Ireland most likely to face a resurgent Australia side coached by a man who has led two different teams to the final before. With France being the favourites for the tournament, Ireland will need to do something they haven’t done since 2018 which is beat France in France.

Ireland have arguably the most difficult road to the world cup final and so their path must include beating two of the top three teams in the world. If they do fall to South Africa in the group stage, they have to face France in the Quarter-finals.

What are Ireland’s chances at lifting the World Cup trophy?

Ireland are the number one ranked team in the world for a reason. They have some incredibly impressive wins over the last few years and Andy Farrell has moulded this squad into a winner.

The issue for Ireland is that they have an incredibly difficult road to even reach the final. As well as beating two of the top three teams in the world, Ireland will also need to escape any slip ups against Scotland or Tonga. There is really only one easy game where Ireland can comfortably rotate the squad.

They are also heavily reliant on player’s above the age of 30 with shaky injury histories like Johnny Sexton, Tadhg Furlong, Tadhg Beirne and Jamison Gibson-Park. Ireland can dominate any team on their day which means they have a great chance of winning the tournament.

But in my eyes, I see Ireland falling at one of the many hurdles they are going to face. This Irish team have just got a hill too big to climb.

Predicted finish for Rugby World Cup 2023: Semi-Final Exit

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