The Offload: Competition looks fierce for 31 spots for Japan

Little rest forthcoming for England’s busy international contingent

Joe Schmidt swept away the debris. The succession plan revealed, Andy Farrell takes over with Schmidt departing in November 2019. Now, as a reward, the "Ireland Coaching Group" get an early and valued Christmas gift: The Offload's 2019 World Cup squad.

“They give you 31 players and give you six- and five-day turnarounds consecutively,” said Schmidt when asked recently how many names are pencilled in. “Player welfare wise, it’s not ideal but therefore you need to be conscious that you need robust players, players who can back up week-to-week. That’s the brutal reality of going to a tournament like the World Cup.”

Tokyo being 6,000 miles from Dublin, the cupboard needs to be stocked in specialist positions so five props, three of whom must be tightheads as Andrew Porter covers loosehead, and three hookers are guaranteed to travel. Unlike 2015, when Ian Madigan was third choice scrumhalf, John Cooney can provide an emergency outhalf option and therefore three number nines should go. That leaves Chris Farrell, Will Addison and Andrew Conway scrapping for the 31st spot. Conway, currently, on form.

The bolter four years ago was Tadhg Furlong. The need for an extra number eight – with Iain Henderson and Tadhg Beirne covering blindside – gets Caelan Doris on the plane. Anyway, paying no heed to injury, here follows the unofficial RWC 2019 squad:

Fullback/wing: R Kearney, J Larmour, J Stockdale, K Earls, A Conway.
Centre: Bundee Aki, Garry Ringrose, Robbie Henshaw.
Outhalf: J Sexton, J Carbery.
Scrumhalf: C Murray, L McGrath, J Cooney.
Props: C Healy, J McGrath, T Furlong, A Porter, John Ryan.
Hooker: R Best, S Cronin, N Scannell.
Locks: James Ryan, D Toner, T Beirne, I Henderson.
Backrow: CJ Stander, P O'Mahony (capt), J van der Flier, D Leavy, S O'Brien, C Doris.

England players rushed back to club action

For a clear picture of the differences between Irish and English rugby systems, see who returned from international duty this past weekend.

Seventeen of the England team that beat Australia on November 24th were back on club duty. From the England starting XV, Exeter duo Henry Slade and Ben Moon were held off while Owen Farrell and Ben Te'o did not reappear for Saracens and Worcester (the Warriors don't see much of the former Leinster centre).

The rest?

Flogged (including Manu Tuilagi as Leicester stumble closer to relegation trouble).

The numbers don't lie with Billy Vunipola and Tuilagi only sharing the Test match field under Eddie Jones for 17 minutes against Wales in March 2016. That England remain the fourth-ranked side in the world is an indictment of the standard of international rugby.

Of the Ireland 23 that faced New Zealand on November 17th only three were back on deck for the provinces –- Peter O'Mahony and Keith Earls – as Munster coach Johann van Graan seeks momentum before Castres come to Limerick next Sunday. Jordi Murphy was at openside for Ulster with Rory Best and Jacob Stockdale coming off the bench to salvage the latest unimpressive Belfast victory, over Cardiff, while Andrew Porter finished off Leinster's decimation of the Dragons at Rodney Parade.

The rest?

On ice.

Race target

45 per cent – Springbok coach Rassie Erasmus’s “race target” for selection.

The South African media currently report his teams to be at 36 per cent .

Murphy unhappy as Leicester struggle "Nobody is more embarrassed than I am. An absolutely appalling performance. We are devastated. I am devastated. It's one of those things, we probably won't sleep until next Friday. I've asked the boys not to do media. I know it's going to be absolutely brutal for all our fans to take. I just hope they stay with us. We are in a bit of a hole and we just have to keep digging and get ourselves out of it." – Leicester Tigers coach Geordan Murphy after Ian Madigan's Bristol did them 41-10.

Jackson poised for a return to action in Ireland?

The Perpignan team that visits Galway in the Challenge Cup next Saturday promises one very interesting selection. The French media are already suggesting Paddy Jackson will leave the winless club, rooted to the Top 14 bottom with 10 straight defeats, to replace Lionel Beauxis at Lyon OU.

That would represent an upward trajectory for the 26-year-old, capped 25 times by Ireland until the IRFU revoked his contract earlier this year, as Lyon are currently seventh in the French league with a foothold in the Champions Cup.

Another option would be to follow Ian Madigan into the English Premiership (the former Leinster outhalf switched to Bristol after one season at Bordeaux).

Neither option offers a window into the Ireland squad ahead of the World Cup but the most visible stage both can currently attain is the second tier European competition.

The Johnny Sexton understudies are established as Joey Carbery and Ross Byrne but their predecessors, Jackson and Madigan, are proof just how quickly that can change.

“I’m not sure if I will go to Connacht,” said Jackson back in October. “If I go it would be great to play on Irish soil again but if not I will just have to rest up but that’s up to the coaches here so we will just see how it goes.”