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5 Irish players who have a big opportunity to impress against the Barbarians

A big performance will see these guys back in the hunt for a World Cup spot.

THURSDAY NIGHT’S GAME against the Barbarians won’t decide who sneaks into Joe Schmidt’s World Cup squad, but it’s a chance for a few outsiders to remind him just what they’re capable of.

We’ve picked out five players who can bring themselves back into contention for a World Cup place with a big performance at Thomond Park.

1. Paddy Jackson

Paddy Jackson kicks a penalty Source: Presseye/William Cherry/INPHO

The form out half in the country, Jackson has been looking like his old self since returning from his elbow injury. He was dropped for the Autumn Internationals, and sat out the Six Nations, with his World Cup hopes seemingly evaporated.

However a return to form, coupled with his rivals’ fortunes going the opposite direction, has him right back into contention, and a performance on par with his recent displays will leave Joe Schmidt with another candidate to consider over the summer.

2. Craig Gilroy

Craig Gilroy scores his side's third try Source: James Crombie/INPHO

It’s hard being an Irish winger. Despite finishing joint top of the regular season try-scoring charts in the Guinness Pro12, Gilroy has been an afterthought for Joe Schmidt in the last 12 months.

There’s a big queue forming in this position with Gilroy, Dave Kearney, Keith Earls and an injured Andrew Trimble all knocking on the door, and a try-scoring performance and some positive rugby could see Gilroy elbow his way past others in the pack.

But while a good performance may not guarantee him a spot at the tournament, a poor one may end his chances altogether.

3. Chris Henry

Chris Henry scores a try Source: Presseye/Darren Kidd/INPHO

A few months ago, it looked like Chris Henry hadn’t a chance of playing in the World Cup.

His heart problem had ruled him out indefinitely, with no return to rugby looking likely before the end of the season. However, he’s been ever-present since returning for Ulster at the March, and while there aren’t any caps on offer for Thursday’s game, it’s been a remarkable turnaround to wear an Irish jersey less than seven months after such invasive surgery.

With Ireland’s backrow looking stronger than ever during the Six Nations, he’s certainly got a lot to do in order to break past the likes of Tommy O’Donnell and Jordi Murphy for a World Cup spot, but he’s got a chance.

4. Rhys Ruddock

Rhys Ruddock Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

Similar to Henry, injury brought him into the side, and cost him his place.

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Ruddock stepped in for the Ulsterman for the Autumn series, and looked every bit the International player. However, he’s played very little rugby since after a fractured arm in December.

Ruddock will be travelling with the Emerging Ireland team to the Tbilisi Cup in Georgia this Summer so should have even more chances to secure game time and make an impression, but unless he can make an impact on proceedings this Thursday, he may have too much to do to eke his way into the squad.

5. Michael Bent

Michael Bent 30/8/2014 Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

It’s taken a lot longer than expected, but Michael Bent has come into his own this season. Cian Healy’s injuries and Jack McGrath’s step up to the International side have given Bent plenty of game time with Leinster, and the knock-on effect is that the 29-year-old is now well worth his place in an Irish squad.

His form even resulted in him being recalled to the Irish squad for the latter stages of the Six Nations, and while he din’t feature in a game, he’s now standing toe-to-toe with a handful of others for the final World Cup propping spot.

Healy and McGrath look to have locked down the starting and sub positions when fit, but there’s a loose-head spot for Bent, Dave Kilcoyne, James Cronin and Denis Buckley to contest for over the coming months, and there’s no reason why Bent can’t get it.

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Neil Treacy

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