Can Ireland Finally Deliver?
Ireland come into the tournament ranked number one in the world and are the reigning Six Nations Champions; but the World Cup has always been a difficult challenge for the men in green. They have never got past the quarter finals, but could this be their year? Here is a deep dive into Andy Farrell’s side:
1. Dan Sheehan
Quick, powerful, deft hands and an eye for the whitewash; everything you want from your hooker. Dan Sheehan is the complete footballer. He has burst onto the scene over the past couple of seasons, but 2023 was the year when he became a household name. His performances for Ireland this year have been wonderful, and his displays in Leinster colours are just as good. He loves to run with ball in hand. He can do your standard front-row carry, but if given an inch of space he has wheels like a winger and will make teams pay. His injury has caused some headaches, but he should be good to go for the World Cup.
2. Hugo Keenan
It was a tough choice between Ireland’s back three, but Hugo Keenan just edges out Mack Hansen and James Lowe in our list of key players. His main weapon is his aerial ability. He is one of the best in the air in the current game, and this makes him such a threat in this Ireland attack. This skill is also vital to turn defence into attack. His prowess in the air means they can turn a high pressure kicks from opposition teams into an opportunity to attack and Keenan’s quick feet often allow him to make meters in traffic, which in turn puts his side back on the front foot. He can also break through the defence off strike plays, as he often comes from deep to hit through the space (as seen in his stellar solo try against France in the Six Nations).
3. Josh van der Flier
The current reigning World Player of the Year, Josh van der Flier is a huge asset for the Irish squad. His main point of difference is his work rate. In a similar vein to Courtney Lawes for England, van der Flier gets through plenty of work on both sides of the ball. In defence, he is a strong tackler and a constant jackal threat; however in attack he has transformed his game and now takes more carries which has seen him become a vital cog in the Irish pack. He is a great operator around the pitch, and Ireland will need him to be at his best if they aim to break their quarter final hoodoo.
Ireland vs Scotland
This game is massive for both sides. Group B is the toughest group out of the lot; and this could easily be both sides’ toughest game at the tournament. Both teams will be battle hardened at this point, as it is the final round of pool games, and the winner will secure their place in the knockout stages too, sending the other team home.
Andy Farrell’s side come into the tournament in red hot form. They won all three of their games this summer, beating Italy, England and Samoa. Whilst they were pushed close by Samoa, they blew England and Italy away with plenty of attacking flare, but also fantastic defence. The clash against Samoa last weekend also showed the depth in their squad and highlighted the character of their entire 33-man-squad going into the tournament. Their defence this summer was simply brilliant, only conceding 40 points across the three games, but their attack was the main thing that caught attention. Against Italy and England, they ran in five tries, and even against Samoa they scored three. This shows a clear attacking intent, as they have kept the scoreboard moving up in fives or sevens instead of threes; which puts them in a good place to take on the maverick Scottish attack which play that same style of attacking rugby.
It won’t be an easy task getting out of the ‘group of death’, but Ireland come into the tournament at the top of the world rankings, and if recent performances are anything to go by they can tear any team apart. They will definitely be one to watch in France.