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My sporting wish for 2015: A fully-fit Ireland heading to RWC

If Joe Schmidt can call on the likes of Johnny Sexton, Sean O’Brien and Cian Healy, there is hope of Irish success.

Ireland haven't quite missed Sean O'Brien, but his return would improve RWC chances.
Ireland haven't quite missed Sean O'Brien, but his return would improve RWC chances.
Image: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

2014 WAS AN exceptional year for Joe Schmidt’s Ireland, but how much better could 2015 be if certain players return from injury and others remain fully fit?

A clean sweep of the November Tests and a first Six Nations title since 2009; it doesn’t get much better than that. But this is a World Cup year, and this Ireland squad has the quality to contest a semi-final, at least.

There should be no tiptoeing around that point; with a coach like Schmidt in charge and world-class players such as Johnny Sexton, Paul O’Connell and Rob Kearney involved, this is as strong an Ireland set-up as we’ve ever had.

Expectations of them challenging for the World Cup may add pressure, but that mental weight will come from within a group who strive towards perfection.

That Ireland were missing so many players through injury in 2014, particularly for the November series, allowed Schmidt to build an encouraging level of depth within his squad.

However, if Ireland want to create history at RWC2015, they will need their best players to be fit. Injury to Sexton would be disastrous, while Conor Murray looks indispensable at scrum-half.

Their replacements have performed superbly, but Cian Healy and Sean O’Brien are two vitally important cogs in the World Cup campaign.

Luke Fitzgerald with Kieran Read and Charlie Faumuina An injury-free run for Luke Fitzgerald would be hugely welcome. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

The latter is a particularly essential figure in all of this. Chris Henry and then Rhys Ruddock have demonstrated that they can thrive in the seven shirt at international level, but 27-year-old O’Brien is among the best back rows in the world when fit.

His combination of explosive power, ball-carrying strength, work-rate, breakdown threat, set-piece understanding and mental fortitude make him a unique specimen. The squad is bigger than one player, but having O’Brien back would vastly increase Ireland’s chances at the World Cup.

It was worrying that the Leinster flanker was sidelined for a second time with the same shoulder injury, and ensuring that this recovery is conservative enough to be final is important for both the province and Ireland.

What of the likes of Keith Earls, Luke Fitzgerald, Dave Kearney, Donnacha Ryan, Iain Henderson, Marty Moore, Mike Sherry, and others? Injury-free runs of form for those players could swell the quality of the Ireland squad before September.

As coaches are so swift to remind us, injuries are part and parcel of professional sport. That has never been more apparent in rugby, where the increased levels of physicality are being reflected in injury rates.

It is virtually impossible that Schmidt will have no injury issues by the time September rolls around, but if Ireland can avoid losing their very best players, they will go to the World Cup as contenders.

McGregor, McIlroy and Keane in sports top 10 Ireland searched for on Google in 2014

About the author:

Murray Kinsella

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