Joe Schmidt has announced his Ireland team that will travel to Japan in search of that maiden semi final match.
Three Ulstermen, Rory Best, Jacob Stockdale and Iain Henderson have made the 31-man squad while Jordi Murphy, Jack McGrath and Will Addison failed to make the cut.
It’s Ulster’s lowest representation in an Irish squad for the Rugby World Cup, which is understandable considering Ulster have under-performed in this World Cup cycle.
While it’s undoubtedly a strong selection of players, there have been some notable omissions. The preference of Jean Kleyn over Devin Toner has caused controversy on social media with many citing Kleyn’s recent eligibility as a major issue.
For me, Toner’s absence is unusual particularly as he is such a good lineout operator in a forward pack whose lineout has been malfunctioning in recent months. Still, Kleyn is phenomenal in the loose adding to a dynamic second row of Henderson, James Ryan and Tadhg Beirne. He certainly warrants his spot with his super form in recent months.
One omission which hasn’t grabbed as much attention as it should is that of Kieran Marmion. The Connacht scrum half steered the ship in Ireland’s defeat of New Zealand in last year’s Autumn Internationals while he also was an able deputy during Ireland’s Grand Slam campaign.
I thought Addison’s versatility would have suited Schmidt, especially after his solid performance at the weekend and he would have been a perfect option to have in the 23 jersey. With Jordan Larmour included, he’ll become Rob Kearney’s back up with Andrew Conway also able to fill in.
Despite the debate about who should have been included, it’s difficult to pinpoint players that shouldn’t have been included. The 31 that Schmidt has selected all deserve their spot on the plane and attention should turn to World Rugby who should increase the squad limit so there’s less strain on those selected.
The lack of Ulster players in the Ireland squad means Ulster will have virtually a full panel of players to pick from for the start of the PRO14 campaign. Dan McFarland has no shortage of exciting wingers at his disposal while the signing of Sam Carter should relieve some of the pressure in the second row position.
This is a big chance for Ulster to lay down a marker in the coming months as Ireland men attempt to progress beyond the quarter finals of the World Cup for the first time.
FORWARDS: Tadhg Beirne, Rory Best, Jack Conan, Sean Cronin, Tadhg Furlong, Cian Healy, Iain Henderson, Dave Kilcoyne, Jean Kleyn, Peter O’Mahony, Andrew Porter, Rhys Ruddock, James Ryan, John Ryan, Niall Scannell, CJ Stander, Josh vd Flier
BACKS: Bundee Aki, Joey Carbery, Jack Carty, Andrew Conway, Keith Earls, Chris Farrell, Robbie Henshaw, Rob Kearney, Jordan Larmour, Luke McGrath, Conor Murray, Garry Ringrose, Johnny Sexton, Jacob Stockdale