Rugby World Cup 2019: Ireland squad player profiles
Patrick Madden looks at the 31-man party Joe Schmidt has picked to travel to Japan
Bundee Aki on the ball during Ireland’s recent win in Cardiff. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho
Bundee Aki (Connacht)
Weight: 101kg (15st 12lbs)
Ireland have a midfield logjam but since qualifying and making his debut against South Africa in November 2017 Bundee Aki has made himself virtually undroppable. Indeed, he has started every match of the last two Six Nations campaigns, as well as all three Tests Down Under last summer and the wins over the All Blacks and Argentina last November - he was afforded a rest against the USA. Aki’s physicality at 12 is matched only by his durability - but he is far more than just a midfield bruiser. In classic Kiwi style his offloading is excellent, and he is lethal with the try line in sight. However, will he keep his place ahead of a fit and firing Robbie Henshaw? Now that is a serious decision for Joe Schmidt.
Joey Carbery (Munster)
Weight: 83kg (13st, 6lbs)
Joey Carbery’s move from Leinster to Munster is a perfect example of the IRFU and the provinces working in harmony for the greater good. One season in and Carbery’s switch already looks like a masterstroke, with the prodigiously talented 23-year-old getting the elite level exposure at outhalf which his ability deserves and his development requires. With Ireland often looking too narrow and predictable in attack, Carbery’s vision and creativity make him a rare commodity, hence why there was such concern over his fitness after he injured an ankle in the opening warm-up fixture against Italy. Luckily, it wasn’t severe enough to deny him his place on the plane, and you feel he will have a big role to play in Japan over the coming weeks.
Jack Carty (Connacht)
Weight: 88kg (13st, 10lbs)
Consistency and timing have been key for Connacht’s Jack Carty, who took advantage of Joey Carbery’s injury to be selected as Johnny Sexton’s understudy for Ireland’s final three Six Nations matches. That meant leapfrogging Leinster’s Ross Byrne in the outhalf pecking order, and he has made it to Japan as Ireland’s third-choice - behind Sexton and Carbery. 26-year-old Carty sealed his place on the plane after a man of the match performance in the penultimate warm-up fixture against Wales in Cardiff. A solid goal kicker, Carty enjoyed a fine year for Connacht and topped the Pro14 points list for the 2018-19 season with 157 - no mean feat given he plays half of his games in the wicked winds of the Galway Sportsground.
Andrew Conway (Munster)
Weight: 90kg (13st, 2lbs)
While Andrew Conway hasn’t quite kicked on to the extent he can lay claim to a place in Joe Schmidt’s starting XV, his versatility - coupled with a good showing in the summer warm-ups - have earned him his place in the Ireland squad for Japan. Conway has flickered sporadically at international level since making his debut against England in the 2017 Six Nations - he has 15 caps to his name - but a hat-trick against the USA last November was a welcome reminder to everyone of his ability with the line in sight. The Munster back’s ability to cover across the back three make him a useful presence to have around, while his aerial game has improved consistently to go with his eye for the try line.
Keith Earls (Munster)
Weight: 87kg (13st 9lbs)
Ageing like the finest of wines, Keith Earls is now 31-years-old and more integral to this Ireland side than ever. Earls has 77 caps to his name with a very healthy return of 30 tries - eight of which have come at the Rugby World Cup, an Irish record. The Munster man has been virtually ever-present during the Joe Schmidt era, with his versatility allowing him to play across the back three and occasionally in midfield - as well as his usual spot on the wing. Earls’ eye for the try line is combined with dancing feet, lightning pace and intelligent lines of running. He is also a fantastic defender, an excellent man for man tackler and has a presence under the high ball.
Chris Farrell (Munster)
Weight: 110kg (17st, 4lbs)
Chris Farrell is another supremely talented Irish centre who has been dogged by injury, with his international progress checked by a serious knee problem he sustained shortly after being named man of the match in the 37-27 win over Wales during the 2018 Six Nations. His next Ireland cap came away to Scotland in this year’s Championship, before he started again in the win over Italy in Rome. Farrell’s hefty frame gives him the appearance of an imposing crash ball 12 but he does his business in the 13 channel, and can be a creative as well as a physical force. Perhaps lucky to have been selected ahead of Will Addison, he travels as one of four midfield options.
Robbie Henshaw (Leinster)
Weight: 103kg (16st, 3lbs)
It is cruel that injury has deprived Robbie Henshaw his part in some of the greatest days in Irish rugby history. The 26-year-old was sent home from the 2017 Lions tour of New Zealand before missing the last three games of the 2018 Grand Slam, as well as the autumn win over the All Blacks. His last appearance in a green jersey was a difficult one - he played at fullback in the Six Nations defeat to England - before a mysterious dead leg ruled him out of the rest of the Championship. Back to fitness, Henshaw will be a crucial part of Ireland’s backline in Japan, with his hard running and peerless defence - as well as his Leinster partnership with Garry Ringrose - perhaps seeing him get the nod ahead of Bundee Aki.
Rob Kearney (Leinster)
Weight: 95kg (14st, 11lbs)
Rob Kearney’s worth to Ireland is perhaps best shown when he isn’t in the team - nobody else can match his aerial ability or offer the same stability in the backfield as the Leinster fullback. The 33-year-old has come through battles with injury in fine style - 2018 was a particularly impressive renaissance, as he started every game of the Grand Slam win, all three Tests away to Australia and the victory over the All Blacks. There is no direct competition for the number 15 jersey - even if there was, it would take someone special to replace Kearney as first choice. His experience, and the calm he spreads throughout the team, will be invaluable in Japan - the last time he gets to rule the skies on the biggest stage.
Jordan Larmour (Leinster)
Weight: 90kg (14st, 2lbs)
Jordan Larmour has been a regular face in the Ireland squad since making his debut in the 2018 Six Nations, and while far from the finished product he possesses a frightening amount of potential. Four of his five Test starts (from 13 caps) have come at fullback, where he offers plenty of threat on the counter but is yet to spread calm from the backfield like his senior 15, Rob Kearney. Larmour’s defensive ability has been questioned but that is something which will improve with experience. What cannot be taught is his scintillating footwork, and his thrilling ability to dance out of trouble in the tightest of spaces. If he doesn’t start, there will be a place for him on the bench - he’s got the X-factor.
Luke McGrath (Leinster)
Weight: 82kg (12st, 10lbs)
Luke McGrath’s consistently excellent performances for Leinster have seen him pip Kieran Marmion for a place in Joe Schmidt’s squad and claim the role of back-up scrumhalf for his own. This is despite McGrath picking up a knee ligament injury in a Champions Cup fixture against Toulouse in January, which deprived him of playing a key role during the Six Nations. On his return to fitness the 26-year-old enjoyed a fine end to the season with his province - he remains a livewire around the fringes, but his kicking and game management have improved, while his relationship with Johnny Sexton is now approaching symbiotic. With three ouhalves needed Schmidt is only taking two nines to Japan, and he has earned one of those places.
Conor Murray (Munster)
Weight: 93kg (14st, 7lbs)
The 2018-19 campaign was a strange one for Conor Murray, with rumours abounding as a mysterious neck injury kept him out of action until February and saw him miss the November Tests - including the victory over the All Blacks. Murray returned for the Six Nations and started all five of Ireland’s matches, but often appeared far from his best. A lack of match sharpness was clear - his kicking radar was off and he lacked the usual sharpness and presence around the base. However, the more he plays the more he resembles his old self. His physicality, experience and ability to control the tempo of Ireland’s attack - as well as his partnership with Johnny Sexton - mean he remains integral to the cause.
Garry Ringrose (Leinster)
Weight: 94kg (14st 11lbs)
It feels like Garry Ringrose has been around forever, yet he is still only 24-years-old and with 20 international appearances to his name. That figure would be much higher were it not for injuries, which have limited him to five caps across the last two Six Nations campaigns. However, when he is fit, there is no doubting Ringrose is Ireland’s first choice centre. He is a stunning player to watch on both sides of the ball, with his intelligent lines, graceful stride and balletic feet making him one of Ireland’s greatest running threats. However it is his defending which really stands out - nobody reads it better than Ringrose, and he provides the glue which holds together Ireland’s midfield. You can’t believe it’s not Bod.
Johnny Sexton (Leinster)
Weight: 92kg (14st, 5lbs)
Johnny Sexton is heading into his third Rugby World Cup and he remains as influential as ever, in every aspect of the game. Despite being repeatedly targeted at outhalf Sexton’s durability is staggering, but that doesn’t stop a nation drawing its breath every time he puts his body on the line. Now 34-years-old, time is ticking on one of the greatest, if not the greatest, careers in Irish rugby - but hopes remain firmly on his shoulders. The emergence of Joey Carbery should take a bit of pressure off Sexton, but Ireland will need every last drop of his experience, nous and peerless ability if they want to make it past the quarter-finals and beyond in Japan. Ireland will be hoping the body holds up.
Weight: 103kg (16st, 3lbs)
Despite being just 23-years-old - and having made his debut as recently as June 2017- Jacob Stockdale already has 21 Ireland caps to his name, all of them earned wearing the number 11 jersey. More pertinently, the Ulster winger has crossed the whitewash 16 times for Ireland, earning himself a reputation as one of the best finishers in the business. His try against the All Blacks will live on forever - his trademark kick and chase felling the world champions - while a fine brace against Wales in August highlighted his status as Ireland’s main attacking weapon. He remains a work in progress - there are defensive lapses - but he is one of the hottest properties in world rugby.
Tadhg Beirne (Munster)
Weight: 113kg (17st, 9lbs)
After serving his apprenticeship out in west Wales with the Scarlets, Tadhg Beirne has been a more than welcome recruit to the ranks for both Munster and Ireland. With just eight caps to his name since his debut against Australia last summer the 27-year-old is an international novice, but his versatility could make him a valuable part of this Ireland squad in Japan. Indeed, while primarily a secondrow he can also play at flanker and number eight - as he did in the win over the Wallabies in Sydney a week after his debut. It is Beirne’s work on the floor which catches the eye - he is an excellent scavenger, with his trademark blue scrumcap often appearing from the bottom of a ruck having earned his side a turnover.
Rory Best (Ulster, captain)
Weight: 106kg (16st, 7lbs)
Retirement beckons for Rory Best after the Rugby World Cup, and Ireland’s captain is looking to end a glorious career on the highest of highs in Japan. At 37-years-old the body is creaking - understandably. Best remains a pest on the deck but his mobility is on the wane, so too his lineout throwing - his performance in the Twickenham warm-up saw him come under real scrutiny. However, the 119-time capped hooker’s experience will be vital to Ireland’s cause this autumn. He leads by example and has a canny knack of keeping a running dialogue with referees and keeping them onside - a particularly valuable skill in tournament rugby. A brilliant servant to Irish rugby, he deserves to bow out in style.
Jack Conan (Leinster)
Weight: 111kg (17st, 5lbs)
The 2018-19 campaign saw Joe Schmidt’s backrow options steadily dwindle due to injury but Jack Conan’s consistently excellent performances for Leinster and Ireland have softened the blow of losing both Dan Leavy and Sean O’Brien. Conan has made the switch from squad player to being deserving of a regular place. He brings linespeed, tempo and serious physicality to the Irish backrow, but he is more than just a bruiser - he has lovely hands and offers a try threat, always showing on the outside shoulder. Ireland’s meek resistance to the awesome physical power of England in the Six Nations and again in August have emphasised the need for bulk and to increase their speed off the line in attack and defence - something Conan can offer.
Sean Cronin (Leinster)
Weight: 103kg (16st, 3lbs)
Thirteen tries in 20 appearances are numbers which any world class winger would be proud of, never mind a lump in the frontrow. But that was Sean Cronin’s scarcely believable return when wearing a Leinster jersey in the 2018-19 season. The long term understudy to Rory Best, Cronin fell out of favour towards the end of the Six Nations, with Niall Scannell taking his place on the bench for the final two fixtures against France and Wales. However, Cronin remains a valuable presence, with his dynamism around the park and ability with the ball in hand - and, of course, his eye for the line - making him the perfect impact player. Providing his throwing at the lineout holds up, that is.
Tadhg Furlong (Leinster)
Weight: 119kg (18st, 8lbs)
It’s time to talk about Tadhg. Ireland can lay claim to a host of genuinely world class players, and a select few who would walk into any team in the world. One of those is Furlong, the best tighthead on the planet and the perfect modern day prop. Having made his debut in 2015, 2017 was Furlong’s real breakthrough year, and he has gone from strength-to-strength ever since. His set-piece work is exemplary, as is his clearing out at the breakdown and his work around the park. He combines a devastating blend of power, speed and a sleight of foot but was strangely ineffective physically against England in August. He will be hoping to set the record straight in Japan.
Cian Healy (Leinster)
Weight: 112kg (17st, 7lbs)
For a while Cian Healy, so long a lynchpin and mainstay of the Irish frontrow, had lost his way. A string of injuries saw him fall out of form and favour, with Jack McGrath taking the number one jersey for much of 2016 and 2017. However, Healy’s renaissance has been impressive. As the injuries cleared up he also lost weight, becoming noticeably lither while retaining the unstoppable dynamic power of old. Whether it’s in the scrum, on the floor or in the tackle Healy has the lot, and he is a dangerous ball carrier, particularly when it comes to picking and driving Ireland forward. With David Kilcoyne waiting in the wings he has the license to run himself into the ground, and he rarely leaves anything on the pitch.
Weight: 117kg (18st, 4lbs)
The surprising omission of Devin Toner suggests Iain Henderson will be the first-choice to partner James Ryan in the Irish engineroom in Japan, and he will take on lineout responsibilities in the process. Physically Henderson himself is a force of nature - an unstoppable ball carrier, able to make yards and generate momentum from virtually any position. With Ireland’s normally formidable lineout creaking in the summer there will be a big onus on Henderson to ensure the set-piece is operating smoothly this autumn, while also retaining his powerful scrummaging and leadership skills. If more power is needed then there remains the option to throw him in the backrow - but it’s a secondrow partnership with Ryan which will really frighten the rest of the world.
David Kilcoyne (Munster)
Weight: 111kg (17st, 5lbs)
After missing out on the 2018 Six Nations in its entirety due to injury Dave Kilcoyne was finally rewarded for his consistency with Munster this year, featuring in every game of Ireland’s 2019 campaign and starting the edgy win over Italy in Rome. Kilcoyne’s main issue has always been the fact he is competing with Cian Healy and Jack McGrath for the number one jersey. However the latter’s difficult season has allowed the Munster man in, and he has grasped his long-awaited opportunity with both hands. 30-year-old Kilcoyne is strong at the set-piece and is relentless around the park, something he emphasised with his rampaging performance against Wales at the Millennium Stadium in the August warm-up win.
Jean Kleyn (Munster)
Weight: 121kg (19st)
Jean Kleyn is perhaps one of the most surprising inclusions in Joe Schmidt’s squad, given he only made his Ireland debut in August and his selection has led directly to the omission of Devin Toner. Kleyn has made no secret of his desire to represent Ireland ever since leaving Cape Town for Limerick in 2016. Three seasons later he is now Ireland qualified, and his consistent performances for his adopted province have seen him fast tracked into Schmidt’s squad for Japan. Selected for his physicality and work rate he made his international debut against Italy in the warm-ups, before struggling at Twickenham during the heavy defeat to England. However, Schmidt has kept faith in his new man, who is now under serious pressure to perform.
Peter O’Mahony (Munster)
Weight: 107kg (16st, 9lbs)
There are flashier players, there are players who make more glaringly obvious contributions, but there is arguably no one who keeps the heart of this Irish side beating quite like Peter O’Mahony. If you were to read the game using statistics then the Munster captain would never stand out - he doesn’t make a huge amount of tackles, and he doesn’t carry the ball particularly often - but his worth to Ireland goes far deeper than numbers. A constant menace at the breakdown, and one of the best lineout operators in the world, he also leads by example - look at his resilience in the face of English brutality at the Aviva Stadium and at Twickenham. To this Ireland side, he is indispensable.
Andrew Porter (Leinster)
Weight: 122kg (19st, 2lbs)
Ireland are currently well stocked in the prop department, and Andrew Porter is a fine option for Joe Schmidt to have at his disposal. Traditionally a loosehead, Porter has grafted hard to turn himself into a tighthead, but remains of more value in his traditional position - as highlighted by his recent contribution against Wales in Cardiff. 23-year-old Porter’s lifting ability in the gym is well documented and his strength translates to the pitch - he is a powerful scrummager and excellent at the breakdown, particularly when it comes to clearing out at the ruck. But he’s not all brawn. Porter has speed around the park and is mobile as well as physical. A back-up, maybe - but a very good one.
Rhys Ruddock (Leinster)
Weight: 111kg (17st, 5lbs)
Rhys Ruddock’s international career looked to be on life support, but the Leinster flanker finds himself on the plane to Japan - partly due to injuries, partly down to his consistency in the blue of Leinster. It feels like Ruddock has been around forever - he made his Leinster debut in 2009 - yet at 28-years-old he is still in his prime. When he is chosen for Ireland, it’s often as captain - and it’s his leadership qualities, as well as his aggression on the pitch, which put him in serious contention to make the cut. And indeed, Ruddock’s physicality and dependability arned him a place in Joe Schmidt’s squad ahead of Jordi Murphy, perhaps with a view to leading the team in pool fixtures against Russia and Samoa.
James Ryan (Leinster)
Weight: 113kg (17st, 9lbs)
James Ryan has made 17 international appearances since his debut in June 2017, and has only tasted defeat three times. He has won a Grand Slam, a series in Australia, beaten the All Blacks and won a European Cup with Leinster. He is still only 22-years-old - a boy, a man and a machine all at the same time. Despite plying his trade in the engine room the totemic Ryan is effectively a fourth backrow for Ireland, with his carrying and tackling numbers often beyond belief. He has a superhuman ability to generate momentum and go forward ball from a standing start, while remaining a vital cog in Ireland’s set-piece machine. He is a once in a generation player - this World Cup will be his first, and certainly not his last.
John Ryan (Munster)
Weight: 18st, 10lbs
The presence of Tadhg Furlong - the best tighthead in world rugby - means John Ryan knows he is playing for the role of frontrow bridesmaid in Japan. Indeed, patience has been key for the 31-year-old Munster prop, who made his debut in November 2016 and has found himself drifting in and out of Joe Schmidt’s plans ever since, with 20 appearances in total - five of which have been starts. The emergence of Andrew Porter has increased the competition at tighthead, but both have earned their place in Japan. Ryan is a rock in the scrum and good defensively, but has also improved his presence and overall effectiveness as a ball carrier, and will surely see some game time in the pool stages.
Niall Scannell (Munster)
Weight: 111kg (17st, 5lbs)
With Rory Best bowing out at the end of the Rugby World Cup, and his recent form coming under real scrutiny, the chance to take the number two jersey in both the long and short term is there for one of his understudies. At the head of the queue is Niall Scannell, who leapfrogged Sean Cronin during the Six Nations after delivering consistently impressive performances in the red of Munster. Scannell took the number two jersey in back-to-back Tests in Australia last summer - both of which Ireland won - highlighting his credentials at the highest level. Scannell has struggled with injuries but at 27-years-old is approaching his prime. His set-piece prowess has been seen as his main asset but his effectiveness with the ball in hand is something he has steadily improved.
CJ Stander (Munster)
Weight: 114kg (17st, 11lbs)
No longer just the one-man wrecking ball who first burst onto the international scene in February 2016, CJ Stander has developed into a serious all-rounder in the backrow, equally adept at performing at flanker as he is at number eight. While on the whole he remains a devastating ball carrier he has been made to look slightly lightweight at times, particularly by England and Wales. However he has added layers to his game, and can often act as a cunning foil for Ireland’s other ball carriers as he attracts the attention of defences. He missed two Six Nations fixtures due to a facial injury, but remains incredibly durable - a valuable asset in what is likely to be a gruelling tournament.
Josh van der Flier (Leinster)
Weight: 98kg (15st, 5lbs)
With Dan Leavy and the London Irish-bound Sean O’Brien both absent through injury, Josh van der Flier carries a huge weight on his shoulders heading to Japan, with the 26-year-old vying to be selected as Ireland’s first choice openside flanker. Van der Flier doesn’t offer the same ball carrying ballast as O’Brien and can on occasion look slightly lightweight - take England’s bruising Six Nations win as an example. However, he remains a in the mix to don the green number seven jersey against Scotland - an athletic presence around the park, he is superb on the floor and a relentless tackler. Having had two major surgeries over the past two years himself, pray he stays fit - the cupboard is getting bare behind him.