Ireland wing James Lowe. Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Big guns to return as Ireland move World Cup prep up a level

This weekend’s clash with England should be different to the 2019 game.

THE MEMORIES OF Twickenham in 2019 are scorched into the minds of those who were present.

Already fatigued from a heavy week of training at a warm-weather camp in Portugal, Joe Schmidt’s men made a promising start against England in the searing heat of that August day but soon started to wilt. By the end of a 57-15 massacre, the dwindling Irish confidence was in meltdown. They never seemed to fully recover.

Four years on, this weekend’s World Cup warm-up clash should be different. For starters, it’s in Dublin.

And England are the ones coming in with more worries. Their captain, Owen Farrell, has escaped a ban for a high tackle that seemed to have threatened his World Cup involvement, so there is some relief there.

But England’s performances have been unconvincing for a long time now and their opening two warm-up games against Wales haven’t given supporters belief that things are about to turn around under Steve Borthwick. The World Cup pool draw was kind to England but now there are concerns. Argentina, Japan, and Samoa will be raring to upset the English in Pool D which also includes Chile.

Ireland, meanwhile, seem to be in a happy, relaxed place. They’ve been open about their aim of winning the World Cup but the ambition hasn’t resulted in any obvious anxiety yet. Of course, that might change when we get into the thick of the tournament but all is calm for now. They’ll also be fresher this time than was the case four years ago simply because they did their training camp in Portugal last week.

Ireland had cause to be pleased with some aspects of their opening warm-up game against Italy two weekends ago and they’ll hope to shift things up a level at the Aviva Stadium on Saturday evening.

josh-van-der-flier-and-tadhg-beirne-dejected Ireland had a torrid time against England in 2019. James Crombie / INPHO James Crombie / INPHO / INPHO

Head coach Andy Farrell is expected to welcome back many of his biggest names as the front-liners who were kept on ice for the Italian clash return to action.

The first-choice back three of  Hugo Keenan, Mack Hansen, and James Lowe will be excited to feature in an Irish phase play attack that hinted at more development against Italy, while centres Garry Ringrose and Bundee Aki are due their first run-out of the season.

Having watched Jack Crowley add to his growing reputation two weekends ago, out-half Ross Byrne will be motivated to remind Farrell of the maturity and control he can bring. Scrum-halves Jamison Gibson-Park and Conor Murray are also set to stretch their legs.

In the front row, Andrew Porter, Rónan Kelleher, Dan Sheehan, and Finlay Bealham are in line to come into the matchday selection, while influential second row James Ryan is a candidate to captain the side as Johnny Sexton serves the second match of his three-game suspension.

Back row front-liners Peter O’Mahony and Josh van der Flier didn’t feature against the Azzurri so will presumably play on Saturday.

There are three other members of the wider training squad who weren’t involved in that opening warm-up: Gavin Coombes, Kieran Treadwell, and the uncapped Jamie Osborne.

Treadwell could feature in the second row and has done well for Ireland under Farrell. After Joe McCarthy’s impressive showing against Italy, Treadwell will be keen to deliver his most dynamic form. Leinster back Osborne is a long shot for World Cup inclusion but has great potential.

andy-farrell Andy Farrell is expected to welcome back his big guns. Dan Sheridan / INPHO Dan Sheridan / INPHO / INPHO

At the age of 25, Coombes has two Ireland caps to his name. Playing for your country in any sport is a huge achievement but many supporters view it as a travesty that the Skibbereen man hasn’t been more involved.

The fact that Caelan Doris and Jack Conan are around at the same time, and CJ Stander before, hasn’t helped number eight Coombes’ case. He has been desperate for a chance to show his ability in a top-tier Test but has been limited to appearances against Japan and the US in the summer of 2021 when others were on the Lions tour.

With Conan nursing a foot issue, opportunity could knock this weekend but Farrell didn’t promise that everyone in the 42-man squad would get a chance to play in the warm-ups. Paul O’Connell had seemingly indicated there would be opportunities, but Farrell said it’s all about making sure his final 33-man group is ready to go for the World Cup.

It will be intriguing to see who doubles up from the Italy game, particularly in the areas that seem to be most hotly contested when it comes to Farrell’s selection.

The back five of the scrum and the outside backs appear to be where there’s a squeeze for those last few spots in the squad.

As the headlines fly in about World Cup injuries and disciplinary hearings elsewhere, Farrell and Ireland will have their fingers crossed on those fronts. But this should be a far smoother encounter than four years ago against the English.

- This article was updated at 2.42pm to reflect the decision from Owen Farrell’s disciplinary hearing.

Your Voice
Readers Comments
This is YOUR comments community. Stay civil, stay constructive, stay on topic. Please familiarise yourself with our comments policy here before taking part.
Leave a Comment
    Submit a report
    Please help us understand how this comment violates our community guidelines.
    Thank you for the feedback
    Your feedback has been sent to our team for review.

    Leave a commentcancel