Well, we come to the last of Ireland’s games in their World Cup warm-up series (I refuse to call it the Guinness series!) against England on Saturday, August 27th, and it has to be said that it has been a poor series overall. 3 losses, against Scotland, and 2 against France (we’ve actually lost 3 times against France this year!), and 3 rather poor performance. We now come to the final Test against England. Coach Declan Kidney has picked close to our best side for the match:

15 – Geordan Murphy (Leicester Tigers)
14 – Tommy Bowe (Ospreys)
13 – Keith Earls (Young Munster/Munster)
12 – Gordon D’Arcy (Lansdowne/Leinster)
11 – Andrew Trimble (Ballymena/Ulster)
10 – Ronan O’Gara (Cork Constitution/Munster)
9 – Eoin Reddan (Lansdowne/Leinster)
1 – Cian Healy (Clontarf/Leinster)
2 – Jerry Flannery (Shannon/Munster)
3 – Mike Ross (Clontarf/Leinster)
4 – Donncha O’Callaghan (Cork Constitution/Munster)
5 – Paul O’Connell (Young Munster/Munster) (capt)
6 – Stephen Ferris (Dungannon/Ulster)
7 – David Wallace (Garryowen/Munster)
8 – Jamie Heaslip (Naas/Leinster)

Replacements:

16 – Rory Best (Banbridge/Ulster)
17 – Tom Court (Malone/Ulster)
18 – Donnacha Ryan (Shannon/Munster)
19 – Denis Leamy (Cork Constitution/Munster)
20 – Conor Murray (Garryowen/Munster)
21 – Jonathan Sexton (St. Mary’s College/Leinster)
22 – Fergus McFadden (Old Belvedere/Leinster)

Both Bowe and David Wallace will be making their first appearances so far in the series. Flannery and Ferris make their first starts (after coming on as subs in previous games), and Murphy his first full test after appearing against Connacht. Trimble, in contrast is playing his 4th test in a row, which is a bit much. He’s become the form winger for Ireland and runs the risk of being too tired to function properly in the World Cup. He should only play a half, and let McFadden get a run around. Earls had a poor game against France so he has a chance to redeem himself. Centre seems to be his preferred position as well, after recently appearing for Ireland as both a wing and full-back. Reddan is probably our best scrum-half at the moment. It’s actually a very impressive side which has a very good chance of winning on Saturday.

 

Of course Ireland played England in the 6 Nations earlier in the year, in what has been our best performance of the season so far. England were looking to win a Grand Slam (having won all their games up to that point) But Ireland ended up putting them to the sword. They were a young, inexperienced side on that day and Ireland took advantage of that. It won’t be the case this Saturday, though. England will be much wiser and they also have Jonny Wilkinson playing, and while not the player of old, he still has that match-winning temperament and ability, which could decide the game. England have also picked a very good side and will want to make up for their poor performances in the warm-up series, against Wales. It should be a close contest.

 

It has been a poor series, as I’ve said and a win would be some boost to morale ahead of the World Cup. Losing 4 games in a row before the tournament would be very demoralising. At this late stage, though, with the World Cup only 2 weeks away, you kind of feel that the focus should be on getting the players on the plane without incurring any more injuries (unfortunately both Brian O’Driscoll and Sean O’Brien are injured at the moment. Let’s hope their ok in time), with the actual result of the England game being of much less importance. Let’s hope Ireland can do both, play well and remain injury free.

 

The squad for the World Cup has already been selected, and looks to have been picked on current form, rather than reputation, which is good. Often, picking a player that is out of form and hoping they come good on the day is bad for the morale of the side, and not good on the player themselves. Better to show faith in the players that are performing at the moment. In this regard, both Luke Fitzgerald and Tomas O’Leary have been playing badly and thus have been left out of the squad. Of Course, they still have a chance to appear in the World Cup, if one of the current squad get injured. Their exclusion means a call-up for Fergus McFadden and Connor Murray, which is great for these young players, who look to be stars of the future.

 

(On an aside: I’m not really sure why the squad has to total 30 players. Seems a small number for a tournament that could last up to 6 weeks, depending on how we do. Also, if players do get injured and need to be replaced it’s better to have the replacement’s on hand so they can spend the maximum amount of time training with the squad, and not worrying about acclimatising to the country. Obviously there are negatives to picking more players, with some players not getting any games at all, and feeling surplus to requirements, and headaches in selection. But I think in a World Cup, it’s better to have too many than too few. I would bring the number up to 34, maybe, with the maximum being 37).

IRELAND 2011 Rugby World Cup Squad:

Backs (14) –

Isaac Boss (Terenure College/Leinster)
Tommy Bowe (Ospreys) *
Gordon D’Arcy (Lansdowne/Leinster)
Keith Earls (Young Munster/Munster) *
Rob Kearney (UCD/Leinster) *
Fergus McFadden (Old Belvedere/Leinster) *
Geordan Murphy (Leicester Tigers)
Conor Murray (Garryowen/Munster) *
Brian O’Driscoll (UCD/Leinster) (capt)
Ronan O’Gara (Cork Constitution/Munster)
Eoin Reddan (Lansdowne/Leinster)
Jonathan Sexton (St. Mary’s College/Leinster) *
Andrew Trimble (Ballymena/Ulster)
Paddy Wallace (Ballymena/Ulster)

Forwards (16) –

Rory Best (Banbridge/Ulster)
Tony Buckley (Sale Sharks) *
Tom Court (Malone/Ulster) *
Sean Cronin (Leinster) *
Leo Cullen (Blackrock College/Leinster) *
Stephen Ferris (Dungannon/Ulster)
Jerry Flannery (Shannon/Munster)
Cian Healy (Clontarf/Leinster) *
Jamie Heaslip (Naas/Leinster) *
Denis Leamy (Cork Constitution/Munster)
Sean O’Brien (Clontarf/Leinster) *
Donncha O’Callaghan (Cork Constitution/Munster)
Paul O’Connell (Young Munster/Munster)
Mike Ross (Clontarf/Leinster) *
Donnacha Ryan (Shannon/Munster) *
David Wallace (Garryowen/Munster)

Interesting call up for Buckley, who hasn’t been playing well, in fact he’s been terrible. Obviously Kidney sees something in him, let’s hope he’s right. No call up for John Hayes, though. He’s been a great force for Ireland over the years but is probably past his prime at this stage (although England are taking Simon Shaw, who’s older than Hayes). Same probably goes for Peter Stringer as well, who looks to be 3rd choice scrum-half for Munster as well, now, with Murray and O’Leary ahead of him. When you look at our best 15, player for player, it’s one of the most impressive sides in the world. Let’s hope Ireland can muster the form of our Grand Slam year, both Leinster and Munster’s double European Cup victories and other great Irish victories, and really perform well in this World Cup. For all our talent, we’ve done very poorly in the World Cup so far. This is actually O’Driscoll’s 4th tournament and he has only appeared in a quarter-final once, which is no good for probably the best player of his generation.

 

The Tri-Nations also comes to an end this weekend, with the decider taking place between Australia and New Zealand. Both teams have won 2 games so far, and lost one. Australia won both their games against South Africa, but lost against New Zealand (in the Tri-Nations, each team play’s the other teams twice, in both home and away fixtures), while New Zealand beat Australia and won one of their matches against South Africa, losing the return game. New Zealand dominated the first game against Australia but will they be able to repeat that feat? Obviously, a Tri-Nations title would be a boost for both teams going into the World Cup so it should be much closer than the last contest between the sides. Ireland meet Australia in the pool stages of the World Cup, so a victory, and Tri-Nations title for them, would make our match all the more difficult.

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