On the plane or out in the cold? We assess Ireland’s World Cup front row options

Home / On the plane or out in the cold? We assess Ireland’s World Cup front row options

JOE SCHMIDT NAMED his extended 45 man squad for the 2015 Rugby World Cup yesterday, and as expected after such a successful year for the national side, there weren’t many surprises.

Of that 45, 11 pack down in the front row, and of that 11, two more will be cut before the final 31 man squad heads across the water.

With a strong scrum so crucial to success, we’ve taken a look at the 11 front rows fighting for the nine plane tickets, and the long queue of names waiting in the wings, should injury strike.

All decided at tighthead?

The first thing that stands out about the selection is that barring injury, Schmidt seems decisive on the tighthead trio he’s bringing to England.

Mike Ross and Marty Moore have been the established duo on matchday, over the last 12 months it’s been a case of when, rather than if Tadhg Furlong would find himself in the main squad.

At the turn of the year it looked as if Mike Ross could struggle to make it to the World Cup.

He struggled badly in the back to back Champions Cup games against Harlequins, and paid the price by being dropped by Matt O’Connor in January.

However, Schmidt stuck by his veteran tighthead and put him in the number three juesey for the Six Nations opener in Rome. With the vote of confidence, Ross looked like a new player overnight, and comfortably anchored the scrum in all but one of the five games, coming off second best against young French loosehead Eddy Ben Arous at the Aviva Stadium.

After an off spell, Ross hit back in the Six Nations. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

His true redemption came against England when he dominated Joe Marler, the man who had given him nightmares in the Quins double-header. Ross put a greater emphasis on technique over power, and it exploited Marler, whose angles got exploited emphatically.

Take below as an example, Ross keeping the perfect 90 degree bend and 120 degree bend at the knees, while Marler is driving up, almost in a straight line from his head to his toes. Ultimately it led to an Irish penalty.

Ross is certain of his place in the final squad, and he seems a better player when Marty Moore is there to back him up. In the Autumn, Schmidt’s lack of faith in Rodney Ah You was evident, keeping Ross on the pitch for 27 of the 30 scrums in the November tests, and his form was patch as a result.

Having Moore on the bench for the Six Nations allowed Ross to go all out for 50 minutes at a time, with the security of a strong scrummager available to replace him. Against Scotland, we saw some perfect examples of this. Ireland had dominated the Scottish set piece in the opening half, and when Moore was introduced, he picked up where Ross left off.

In his first scrum, he came under pressure from Alasdair Dickinson, who angled in illegally, but Moore kept his discipline, maintaining a straight drive.

And the net result was that as Scotland began to wheel, the Irish pack kept moving forward, picking up another penalty.

When Ross does hang up his boots, the future is strong at Ireland’s traditional problem position, with Moore looking more and more an international standard scrummager every time he pulls on an Ireland jersey.

Barring injury, the selection of Tadhg Furlong is a clear indication of the first choice trio Schmidt is planning to bring to the tournament. The lack of a fourth option says that Furlong will get plenty of game time in the warm-up matches, with the 22-year-old having very little chance to impress at the scrum against the Barbarians,with his opponent Roberto Tejerizo getting consistently penalised for illegal drives.

Source: Inpho/Billy Stickland

However, whet we’ve seen from Furlong in his first season in the Leinster senior team has been very impressive. Whether has has what it takes to break Ross and Moore’s hold on the starting jerseys remains to be seen. But if he doesn’t, he’s in this squad on merit.

Those who missed the cut should keep their passports nearby however, as it just takes one injury to get back into the mix.

On form, Stephen Archer seems next in line, while Connacht pair Nathan White and Finlay Bealham will also be contenders.

Strauss and Herring to fight for a plane ticket

While tighthead looks to be a closed club, there are intriguing battles developing for the last remaining jersey at hooker and loosehead.

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While Sean Cronin has played the perfect impact sub to Rory Best, there is a strong case to be made for either Rob Herring or Richardt Strauss to provide cover as third man.

At the moment, Strauss has done nothing to warrant losing his place as the next in line, but big performances from Herring could give leave Schmidt with a decision to make.

The South African-born pair are both solid options, but if the final squad was to be picked tomorrow, Leinster’s Strauss would be the man to get selected.

Strauss was one of the few Irish players who impressed during the game against the Barbarians.

However, the 29-year-old has picked up some niggly injuries in the past 12 months, and should he come a cropper in training, Herring has his opening.

Spare a thought for Duncan Casey too, the Munster hooker was one of their players of the year this season, but will surely need a couple of injuries to get a first call-up.

Bent showing the Killer touch?

Of all the battles for a frontrow place, the face off between Dave Kilcoyne and Michael Bent is the hottest of the lot.

With the embarrassment of riches at loosehead, Schmidt has had so may options to choose from with this squad. Cian Healy and Jack McGrath were the locked down first and second choice, but with four or five players vying for the likely final loosehead spot, there was always going to be test quality left at home.

In the crucial final pool game of the Champions Cup against Wasps, Leinster’s scrum clicked, with Bent an important part, this first half penalty being a prime example.

When the ball is fed, Marty Moore anchors the scrum at tighthead, holding his spot despite the crooked drive from Matt Mullan.

Bent drives forward, creating an arc, and we can see that he’s nudged up, opening the space and forcing Wasps’ defensive line further back.

They continue driving, and Wasps begin to whip the scrum, rather than going backwards. When the penalty arrives, we can see how Bent still has his head outside the chest of Cittadini, a clear sign of a good, square and straight drive.

While Bent is probably showing his best form since arriving in Ireland nearly three years ago, Munster’s Dave Kilcoyne is the other option, and there’s not much between the pair.

Kilcoyne was the third loosehead in the squad for the November tests, starting against Georgia and coming off the bench against South Africa, but injury soon after meant that when the Ireland jetted off for Rome and the Six Nations opener, he had fallen back the pecking order.

He’s a big scrummager though, with a huge amount of leg power to draw from.

Against Glasgow in the Pro 12 final, he showed fantastic technique and power to keep the scrum as low as possible without collapsing. As we can see, he’s as close as can be to dropping his knee to the pitch, but his excellent footwork is keeping him up, with his front studs dug deep into the turf.

Eventually, Roussow du Klerk can’s keep stable any longer, dropping his bind and collapsing. Being at the far side of the scrum at the time Nigel Owens deemed it a slip, and reset, which Munster won a penalty from.

With Cian Healy still recovering from neck surgery, both Kilcoyne and Bent should get ample time to make an impression over the course of the warm-up games. Bent’s ability to play both tight and loose may help swing it, but will not be a deciding factor.

Purely on form, Kilcoyne’s end of season displays for Munster probably has him ahead by a nose, but the scrap between the pair for a World Cup place will be one of the best sub-plots this summer.

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