Access exclusive podcasts, interviews and analysis with a monthly or annual membership

Become A Member
Dublin: 4°C Tuesday 13 April 2021

Now or never for Ireland's World Cup hopefuls in Aviva audition

Joe Schmidt’s side begin their warm-up schedule against Italy this afternoon.

AND SO IT begins.

The serious business is still a number of weeks away, but Ireland’s World Cup preparations move up a gear at the Aviva Stadium this afternoon, when a host of players enter last chance saloon in their bid to earn a seat on the plane to Japan. 

It may be the first of four outings during this summer warm-up series, but with just 320 minutes of rugby between now and the tournament opener against Scotland next month, it’s now or never for the majority of Joe Schmidt’s 23 against Italy [KO 2pm, RTÉ 2, Channel 4].

Cian Healy, Jack McGrath, Jordi Murphy and Kieran Marmion The Ireland squad at Friday's captain's run. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

As much as it is the first chance for Ireland to develop collect momentum and cohesion heading towards Japan, the much-changed selection and inclusion of two new caps confirms this is a high-stakes trial match in everything but name.

From Ireland’s heavy defeat in Cardiff back in March, only Garry Ringrose survives in the starting XV, with just five others — Jordan Larmour, Joey Carbery, Devin Toner, Cian Healy and Iain Henderson — in the matchday squad all but assured of their place in Schmidt’s final 31-man panel.

Given the first chance to stake their claim, opportunity certainly knocks for the rest but the door is closing fast and how they deal with the pressure and scrutiny of this Aviva audition may just determine whether they’re cut adrift at this juncture. 

It is highly possible that those handed their opportunity this afternoon will not be presented with another before the big decisions are made, meaning the pressure is firmly on despite this being the opening game of the season. 

Munster’s Jean Kleyn will make his Ireland debut two days after qualifying under the three-year residency rule, while his provincial team-mate Mike Haley could also win his first cap off the bench.

Kleyn has already made a noticeable impression in camp over the course of the summer and Schmidt has immediately taken advantage of his eligibility to throw the 25-year-old into the second row alongside Toner, who returns after undergoing ankle surgery during the Six Nations.

Amidst several fascinating subplots, there is excitement over what Kleyn will bring to the green jersey. Here he has the chance to instantly showcase his old-school strengths, power and set-piece nous, and could force his way up the pecking order with a big shift. 

Elsewhere in the pack, the starting front row are all handed a chance to push their own individual causes, with Jack McGrath, Rob Herring and Andrew Porter packing down for the second time in the Test arena after doing so against Fiji in 2017.

With Rhys Ruddock captaining Ireland and Tommy O’Donnell’s remarkable resilience earning him a starting berth at seven, Jordi Murphy will have to show his versatility at number eight. As is the case with many of his team-mates, the Ulster back row, you feel, needs to deliver after a difficult day out against this opposition in Rome in March. 

Jean Kleyn Jean Kleyn will make his Ireland debut this afternoon. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

The starting XV features eight of the side involved against the Azzurri in Chicago last November, including Larmour, who scored a memorable hat-trick at Soldier Field. The Leinster man has the opportunity to enhance his credentials at fullback, and Farrell has told him to ‘be himself.’

Andrew Conway and Dave Kearney, back in from the wilderness after last featuring nearly three years ago, make up the back three.

Chris Farrell is interestingly named at 12 inside Ringrose and outside the half-back pairing of Carbery and Luke McGrath, who is back in green after missing the Six Nations, but needs to hit the ground running with John Cooney and Kieran Marmion breathing down his neck. 

The primary objective, Andy Farrell insisted on Thursday, was to build cohesion after an extensive pre-season block, and certainly after the disappointment of the Six Nations, it would be preferable for Ireland to generate some winning momentum heading into the pool stages. 

“We need to build in the right way,” Ireland’s defence coach said. “Is warm-up game the right word? I don’t know because they are Test matches to these boys and they mean a hell of a lot but we need to build in the right way.

“Obviously we’ve been concentrating on the fundamentals of the game, like our fitness — getting fitter, faster, stronger — but also adapting our game and pushing forward as well.

“Is that going to happen 100% in the first game? Well, we’ll wait and see but I think the likelihood is that we’ll keep building and keep on improving and making sure that we’re full of confidence getting on the plane to Japan.”

He added: “I’m confident enough that we’ll show that we’re willing and able to bring the fundamentals of the game forward and obviously our skill level has to be high, we don’t know what weather is going to be like, it might be rainy at the weekend but our skill level has got to be high.

“Our application and our physicality has got to be there straight away and the speed that we play the game has got to be spot on. We have to make sure that we’re as accurate as we possibly can, that’s how we’ll be judging ourselves.”

Joey Carbery Joey Carbery will hope to pull the strings. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Ireland have won eight consecutive games against Italy dating back to 2013, but overall, their record in these preparatory fixtures is poor, having lost all four ahead of the 2011 tournament while suffering defeats to Wales and England four years ago. 

As for Italy, O’Shea has named just three of the side that finished the Six Nations against France: Edoardo Padovani switches to fullback, Angelo Esposito is on the wing and 21-year-old centre Marco Zanon are all retained.

The visitors are captained by Benetton second row Dean Budd, former Leinster out-half Ian McKinley must settle for a place on the bench, while there is a return for Matteo Minozzi after a serious knee injury.

“We’ve set our focus on every game at the World Cup, and as you see, we’re trialling teams and players over the next few weeks,” Budd said on the eve of the game.

Yes, we always want to win, that will never be any different. No matter what the process we’re going out there to win tomorrow, but there’ll certainly be no panic stations if things don’t work out for the best tomorrow.

Granted the primary purpose of such outings is to help finalise selection, dust off the pre-season cobwebs and fine-tune combinations, but there is a hell of a lot on the line for the individuals involved. 

Nobody will remember the result in years to come, nor will we be provided with a gauge of how Ireland are going to perform at the tournament proper, but these are afternoons when international careers are often shaped and defined. 

Be part
of the team

Access exclusive podcasts, interviews and analysis with a monthly or annual membership.

Become a Member


15. Jordan Larmour
14. Andrew Conway
13. Garry Ringrose
12. Chris Farrell
11. Dave Kearney
10. Joey Carbery
9. Luke McGrath 

1. Jack McGrath
2. Rob Herring
3. Andrew Porter
4. Devin Toner
5. Jean Kleyn
6. Rhys Ruddock (captain)
7. Tommy O’Donnell
8. Jordi Murphy.


16. Niall Scannell
17. Cian Healy
18. John Ryan
19. Iain Henderson
20. Tadhg Beirne
21. Kieran Marmion
22. Jack Carty
23. Mike Haley.


15. Edoardo Padovani
14. Angelo Esposito
13. Tomasso Benvenuti
12. Marco Zanon
11. Giulio Besigni
10. Carlo Canna
9. Giuglielmo Palazzani

1. Nicola Quaglio
2. Olivero Fabiani
3. Marco Riccioni
4. Allessandro Zanni
5. Dean Budd (captain)
6. Giovanni Licata
7. Maxime Mbanda
8. Jimmy Tuivaiti.


16. Federico Zani
17. Andrea Lovotti
18. Simone Ferrari
19. Marco Lazzardni
20. Renato Giammarioli
21. Calum Bradley
22. Ian McKinley
23. Mateo Minozzi.

Referee: Luke Pearce [England].

The42 Rugby Weekly is back as we get ready for next month’s World Cup. Murray, Gavan and Bernard Jackman get us started by looking ahead to this weekend’s opening warm-up game against Italy.

Source: The42 Rugby Weekly/SoundCloud

The42 is on Instagram! Tap the button below on your phone to follow us!

About the author:

Ryan Bailey

Read next:


This is YOUR comments community. Stay civil, stay constructive, stay on topic. Please familiarise yourself with our comments policy here before taking part.
write a comment

    Leave a commentcancel