Rugby World Cup 2019: Ireland Squad (Forwards)

Ireland have announced their 44 man training group ahead of their World Cup preparations with two debutants, former Sale Sharks fullback Mike Haley and Munster’s South African import Jean Kleyn also included amongst the more familiar names such as the retiring Rory Best and 2018 World Player of the Year Jonny Sexton.

Rory Best will captain the team from hooker and he is joined by Niall Scannell, Rob Herring and long time deputy Sean Cronin. With Best and Cronin likely to go Joe Schmidt will have a tough time choosing between the two hookers the other side of 30, Niall Scannell, 27 and Rob Herring, 29.

Scannell has the advantage in caps with his 14 doubling the seven earned by Rob Herring and he is highly regarded by Munster head coach Johan Van Graan.

By the side of Best we expect there to be five options. Tadhg Furlong is arguably the best tighthead prop in the world. His Leinster teammate Cian Healy is also excellent and one of the best scrummagers going. Munster pair David Kilcoyne and John Ryan are the form back-ups to provide extra power late on. Then there is a debate to be had about where they will need the extra option.

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By Warwick Gastinger – Rugby World Cup DSCN4902, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=43622805

Jack McGrath is heavily experienced with 54 Ireland caps but with he has to contend with the highly rated 23 year old Andrew Porter and the less fancied Finlay Bealham. Porter would benefit from the high octane environment of a World Cup.

If we are totally honest in the engine room there is one man above all others, James Ryan. Just 22 years old but by far the best lock that Ireland have.

To offset the youthful exuberance is the totem pole-like Leinster second row, Devin Toner. He is closely followed by the in-form lock, Tadhg Beirne who has impressed at Thomond Park this season putting in some massive performances in the Champions Cup.

Jean Kleyn has done well to make the squad but he’s not in the same class as supposed Ireland mainstay Iain Henderson and Ultan Dillane. Henderson has 30 more caps than Dillane and provides a very safe pair of hands at the lineout similar to Dillane in many ways.

In the back row Ireland have plenty of options, the main one being Munster’s, Peter O’Mahony. CJ Stander is also a key component to the back row with his carrying a very important part of Ireland’s attacking game, with that in mind Jack Conan is also fast becoming indispensable to Joe Schmidt’s side.

Josh van der Flier is the natural successor to Sean O’Brien and he has that natural openside feel to his game as he has shown countless times not just for Ireland but also his province, Leinster.

Tommy O’Donnell, Rhys Ruddock and Jordi Murphy have all had some great performances in the green of Ireland, O’Donnell’s long range try over Italy in the Six Nations a fond memory for the Munster back row. Murphy has the most caps with 27, just six more than Ruddock and 15 more than his fellow clubman.

Our Picks

On the Plane: Rory Best (Ulster), Tadhg Furlong (Leinster), Peter O’Mahony (Munster), James Ryan (Leinster)

In the Departure Lounge: Cian Healy (Leinster), CJ Stander (Munster), Devin Toner (Leinster)

Checking In: Jack Conan, Sean Cronin (both Leinster), Iain Henderson (Ulster), David Kilcoyne, John Ryan (both Munster), Josh van der Flier (Leinster)

Packing: Tadhg Beirne (Munster), Jordi Murphy (Ulster), Andrew Porter (Leinster), Niall Scannell (Munster)

At Home: Finlay Bealham, Ultan Dillane (both Connacht), Rob Herring (Ulster), Jean Kleyn, Tommy O’Donnell (both Munster), Rhys Ruddock (Leinster)

Brothers In Arms XV

There are a lot of family connections in the world of rugby, there are father and son pairings like Owen and Andy Farrell, or cousins like the Vunipolas and Taulupe Faletau but here we focus on exceptional siblings. We put together a team of 15 players, the only criteria must have a rugby playing brother.

1 Ben Franks (New Zealand)

The ex-All Black is an experienced man and has played rugby for some great clubs in both his homeland and more recently England and he will continue his journey in England next season with Northampton Saints. A solid set piece specialist.

2 Tom Youngs (England)

No longer on the England radar but still a very good player. He has been a wonderful servant to his club first as a centre before his transition to the front row. He’s a mobile unit and hasn’t lost his handling skills from his days as a back.

3 Owen Franks (New Zealand)

Arguably the best tighthead prop of all time. He has amassed 106 international caps over the last decade and at 31 as a prop he could have years ahead of him. He will go down as a New Zealand and Crusaders great.

4 Sam Whitelock (Captain, New Zealand)

Your classic enforcer. Sam Whitelock has been front and centre for the All Blacks for a number of years, an All Black team without Whitelock is like a burger without the cheese, it’s just not the same. Strong in the lineout and around the park. His experience and workrate make him our captain.

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By http://www.davidmolloyphotography.com from Sydney, Australia – 2017.08.19.20.22.55-Sam Whitelock, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=61951964

5 Scott Barrett (New Zealand)

Scott’s style of play may not be the razzle dazzle of younger brother, Jordie or the fast, skilful show of older brother, Beauden but it is just as effective. Scott is an expert at the lineout and he has made this a considerable strength for his franchise.

6 Luke Whitelock (New Zealand)

The lesser known Whitelock. He may have just eight caps for New Zealand but is a testament to the man that he is such a valued member of the Highlanders. He has also shown how highly regarded he is with four caps for the Barbarians and an appearance for a World XV. A useful lineout option and abrasive in the loose.

7 Steffon Armitage (England)

A traditional openside flanker, starting at London Irish he flourished when he left for France and the eccentric Mourad Boudjellal’s Toulon. Armitage’s work on the floor is exceptional and he can turnover ball at will.

8 Ardie Savea (New Zealand)

Not quite as quick as his formidable brother but fast nonetheless. He makes the breaks of a centre with the power of a ten tonne truck. He has all the attributes of a world class rugby player. Fast becoming a shoo-in for Steve Hansen.

9 Ben Youngs (England)

England’s first choice scrum-half and has been for some time. Youngs is one of the leaders of both his national team and Leicester Tigers. He has an all court game, he kicks very well, passes quickly and he has that sniping ability with his pace.

10 Beauden Barrett (New Zealand)

The oldest of the Barrrett dynasty. The 28 year old has established himself as one of the best fly-halves in the world. Barrett is quick, frighteningly so and he uses this to great effect along with his vision. He’s the only superstar brother we want running our backline.

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By http://www.davidmolloyphotography.com from Sydney, Australia – 2017.08.19.20.17.44-Barrett chased by Rona, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=61951911

11 Julian Savea (New Zealand)

Another man that is no longer part of the international picture but he has an astonishing strike rate for New Zealand with 46 tries in 54 appearances. He has extraordinary pace for his formidable size and he also has considerable power.

12 Manu Tuilagi (England)

Another powerhouse for this backline that is shaping up to be almost as big as the pack. Despite having an injury plagued career he is undoubtedly an extremely talented centre. His power and offloading game make him potent in attack.

13 Jordie Barrett (New Zealand)

Not quite as consistent as his older brothers but has all the talent in the world, remarkably skilful, terribly quick and terrifyingly brilliant. If he can match any of the achievements of his fly-half brother he could become a key part of a post-World Cup All Blacks team.

14 Alesana Tuilagi (Samoa)

There was only space for two of rugby’s largest family in both numbers and size. The Samoan winger was known for his powerful hits (ask Nick Abendanon) and barnstorming carries. Tuilagi adds even more terrifying physicality to this powerful backline.

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By Mark Meredith – Flickr: Ready for action, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=16889376

15 Delon Armitage (England)

The veteran fullback was luckier than his brother regarding international caps, appearing 26 times for England and scoring eight tries in the process. A strong kicker and good footwork make fullback his best position although he’s also at home in the centre or out on the wing.

There we have it our Brothers XV. It was hard to pick our favourite brothers so instead of just making one team we made three, stay tuned and like the Facebook page to see if your favourite brothers made any of our later teams. Do you think this team could give your favourite team a run for their money? Let us know in the comments.

Total Recall for Argentina’s European Stars as World Cup Looms

Argentina will be able to select their European based players for the World Cup and with their group rivals being England and France these players could not only arrive with their considerable talent but also inside information on their teammates.

Here we look at the three main contenders to return to the blue and white stripes of their homeland when the World Cup kicks off.

  1. Santiago Cordero

This man was a magician in 2015 tearing up the opposition with his incisive breaks, elusive swerves and out and out pace. Since then he has been doing much the same and has been a real fan favourite at Sandy Park for Premiership leaders, Exeter Chiefs.

Argentina will be keen to get this man back in the team and on the ball. Cordero is a dangerous man, give him an inch and he’ll take a mile. His trickery is no longer the secret it was to most of the world back in 2015.

2. Facundo Isa

The Toulon back row is best known for his barnstorming carries. Isa has such power, you have to brave man to try and take this man high. Isa is equally at home powering over players as using his deceptive pace to blast through a weak inside shoulder.

His versatility and ability to play across the back row is also a huge benefit for a World Cup squad, Isa could be a very important part of Argentina’s World Cup jigsaw.

3. Nicolas Sanchez

The all-time leading point scorer for Argentina has never missed a squad but is currently plying his trade for Parisian club, Stade Francais who he joined after last year’s Rugby Championship. His definitely Argentina’s most important playmaker and this makes him very valuable for Argentina.

Sanchez is arguably Argentina’s best player and his presence will lift Argentina to new heights. His kicking game and pace put him on a par with some of Europe’s best fly-halves, with Sanchez in their ranks they have every chance of reaching the quarter-finals for the fourth World Cup in a row.

Argentina’s u-turn gives them a fighting chance in the upcoming World Cup. These stars are certainly ones to watch out for when Argentina take on England, France, Tonga and the USA over the course of the next autumn.

State of the Nation: New Zealand (continued)

Part two analysing the All Blacks and picking our squad just six months out from the 2019 World Cup.

You can find part one and our forwards here.

At half back New Zealand are strong and there are two scrum-halves that would make most international teams. Aaron Smith and TJ Perenara both travel. Steve Hansen is likely to take a third scrum-half as part of his initial squad.

There are many options Augustine Pulu, Mitchell Drummond and Brad Weber all capped by New Zealand but Hansen will likely stick with the form scrum-half of last season Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi, he adds some excitement to the settled pair of Smith and Perenara.

Scrum-Halves: TJ Perenara (Hurricanes), Aaron Smith (Highlanders), Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi (Chiefs)

At fly-half there is no debate Beauden Barrett is first choice and will remain first choice. Behind him again a really easy choice after last season. Richie Mo’unga is a key part of the Crusaders success, he kicks well out of hand and is a good attacking player.

Fly-Halves: Beauden Barrett (Hurricanes), Richie Mo’unga (Crusaders)

One are of considerable depth for New Zealand is centre especially with the recent return of World Cup winner Ma’a Nonu.

New Zealand’s Mr Consistent Ryan Crotty is a class act and goes about his job quietly yet efficiently and must be a part of Hansen’s squad. Alongside him his Crusaders partner in crime Jack Goodhue has the makings of a really good player. He’s in great form, he’s fast and got some real power, he offers New Zealand something really quite special in the midfield.

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Credit: David Molloy photography via Flickr

Behind the Crusaders duo there are so many options Matt Proctor is a very good player but will probably miss out, Vince Aso is another player that is on the peripheries of the picture.

One man very much front and centre is Sonny Bill Williams, can be a bit of a marmite player but certainly talented. It is shown by previous winning sides experience is key the proven big game performances and experience of the hulking centre make him an integral part of our squad.

We had trouble picking our fourth and final centre between powerful runner Ngani Laumpae and the skilful ball player Anton Lienert-Brown. The way Laumape has played over the past few seasons and the explosive presence he can offer make him our final pick.

Centres: Ryan Crotty, Jack Goodhue (both Crusaders), Ngani Laumape (Hurricanes), Sonny Bill Williams (Blues)

These leaves five spaces in the back three to complete our 31-man squad.

Tries are going to be important in Japan especially with bonus points on offer in the group stage the same as in 2015. New Zealand have arguably the best wing in the world in Rieko Ioane, he’s a dangerous finisher with pace to burn.

It’s again a really competitive position, with him there is Ben Smith, a talented fullback and his ability to play wing is an added bonus. Talking of versatility New Zealand are going to need a player that can cover ten should the worst happen and Barrett get injured, after all look at the 2011 World Cup. Damian MacKenzie is that man. Not only can he cover fly-half but he’s also the best counterattacking player around.

To compliment Ioane, there is a wealth of options but very much leading the charge is Waisake Naholo, the winger is another speed merchant but Naholo really excels in his evasion, he has a low centre of gravity and a powerful leg drive.

Jordie Barrett is just outstandingly brilliant, creative, quick, dangerous. We have left him out, we have gone for a relative bolter in the shape of Ben Lam. He may not be as prolific as he was last time out but is still a danger man.

Back Three: Rieko Ioane (Blues), Ben Lam (Hurricanes), Damian MacKenzie (Chiefs), Waisake Naholo, Ben Smith (both Highlanders)

There we have it our 31-man squad for New Zealand, next up Wales check that out later this week. Who would you pick if you were Steve Hansen hit us up in the comments section!

Bulls v Sharks: Three Key Battles

It’s our second instalment of this feature and again we take a look at one of the weekend’s Super Rugby clashes as two of South Africa’s strongest franchises take on each other in Pretoria.

These are the three contests we think could decide what is set to be an enthralling contest.

  1. Cornal Hendricks v Sbu Nkosi

Both right wings so we will probably be robbed of watching a foot race between these two amazing finishers that have been key men for their franchises.

Nkosi is one of the most deadly players in the league and is in a backline that will want to get the balls to their wings and exploit the wider areas.

Hendricks possesses slightly less pace than his Sharks counterpart but with the strong pack the Bulls possess and a very creative midfield if Hendricks is given space there will be fireworks.

2. Handre Pollard v Robert Du Preez

Two very capable fly-halves with rounded games. Du Preez is in his last season with him set to join England’s Sharks based in Sale.

Pollard is South Africa’s number one for a reason, he’s an attacking master and if he is given the front foot by his pack he will have no problem running at defenders and using his handling and kicking game to manipulate the Sharks defenders.

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By David Roberts from London, United Kingdom – South Africa vs. USA, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=44256325

Du Preez showed what a good player he is in Sale and proved that he has it in him to be a really steadying presence. He will not be found wanting off the tee and Pollard will have his work cut out containing the Sharks ten.

3. Schalk Brits v Akker van der Merwe

The all action Brits has had a great career and he is continuing to defy the ageing process back in his homeland following a very successful period with Saracens in England. Akker van der Merwe is no pushover though and earned his first three caps for South Africa last year.

Brits will be his usual self playing like a centre in a hooker’s body and will be key to give Bulls some go forward and try to give Bulls the advantage on the gainline.

Akker van der Merwe will try and build on what was a good season for the 26 year old last time out if not for the Sharks. A different type of player than Brits but very good at the basics and offers Sharks some real power.

This game could decide the winners of the South African conference and is sure to a brutally physical and bruising encounter in Pretoria.

Combined England-Wales XV

England and Wales are the only undefeated teams left in the Six Nations and they meet for a potential championship showdown this weekend in Cardiff. Here is the XV we think is the best mix from the two nations.

  1. Rob Evans (Wales)

It would be Mako Vunipola but his injury rules him out. Evans gets this due to having played the most.

2. Jamie George (England)

An excellent opening two rounds from the hooker hands him this spot over Ken Owens. Strong in the loose and a workhorse in defence.

3. Kyle Sinckler (England)

Carries well and is developing into one of the best tighthead props in the business. Easily the best option.

4. Alun Wyn Jones (Wales)

An excellent leader. He has been totemic for Wales over the past few seasons and his presence alone can change games.

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By Chris Jobling from Swansea, UK, Wales – Ospreys v Harlequins (EDF Energy Cup 2008), CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=28830783

5. Courtney Lawes (England)

Makes monstrous hits and fly-halves have no chance against a man with the power and strength of Courtney Lawes. Also a brutal carrier.

6. Mark Wilson (England)

The unsung hero of the England pack. Heroic work rate and key to England’s recent success.

7. Justin Tipuric (Wales)

A breakdown specialist, and a tackling menace. Tipuric is a proper open side flanker and it improves the balance in the back row with Wilson.

8. Billy Vunipola (England)

In our minds the best number eight in the Six Nations.

9. Ben Youngs (England)

A very strong box kicking game and at his best a real joy to watch.

10. Owen Farrell (England)

No contest here. Farrell is the complete fly-half, he kicks well, tackles strongly, manages the game to the nth degree and leads from the front.

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By Clément Bucco-Lechat – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=46847661

11. Jonny May (England)

The best finisher England have and with four tries in his last two games with a mastery of the kick chase game he fills our left wing spot.

12. Manu Tuilagi (England)

Playing very well for England and still not at his best.

13. Jonathan Davies (Wales)

Creates space when there is none. A strong attacker and one of the best defensive centres in the world.

14. George North (Wales)

The giant winger has power and pace to burn.

15. Liam Williams (Wales)

His powerful runs and lethal speed make him our fullback. Him linking with Jonny May and George North would be deadly.

Would you make any changes? Let us know in the comments section.

Have England Finally Found Their First XV?

England’s win over Ireland was by some way the best performance of the weekend. Ferocious line speed, ruthless attack and brutal physicality whilst executing the perfectly formulated gameplay was enough for England win 32-20 and take the full five points in Dublin.

England have long been searching for their best team. The centre has been a particular area of concern even with Owen Farrell being the first choice twelve for Eddie Jones at the start of his tenure it was only ever meant to be a stop gap until something better came along or in Manu Tuilagi’s case regain fitness.

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By George Olcott – Flickr: Seeing The Gap, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=16995621

The axis of the powerful Manu Tuilagi and the playmaker Henry Slade worked perfectly. Tuilagi’s power was enough to keep the duo of Bundee Aki and Garry Ringrose occupied defensively, and Henry Slade’s two try performance including the interception of Jonny Sexton’s pass to wrap up the bonus point was the best he’s ever played in the white of England.

In the back row Tom Curry came in for the injured Sam Underhill and there is a debate to be had about who offers more. Both are young, traditional open side flankers, they will likely be battling it out to be England’s first choice for years to come but the Ireland performance would suggest it’s advantage Curry.

Alongside Curry was the return of Saracens number eight Billy Vunipola. The rampaging back rower makes such a difference to England he’s on another level to Nathan Hughes and Mark Wilson who took up the mantle for England’s autumn campaign.

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By Charlie from UK – IMG_4726Uploaded by stemoc, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=28727588

Vunipola adds that carrying ability that is so important for forwards in the modern game. You would not want to be the player having to drag down 130 kilo behemoth.

On the blindside was Mark Wilson who was the standout for England against South Africa and Australia in the autumn. His hard work and tireless effort make him the player every team needs. He offers much more than Wasps New Zealand import Brad Shields who has barely got out of second gear since arriving in Coventry.

The final position there was doubt over was Elliot Daly, many including us here at Rugby360 were expecting to see Mike Brown start against Ireland to diffuse the expected aerial bombardment of the half backs Conor Murray and Sexton.

Daly was exceptional. He was excellent in the air. Daly did miss one important catch in the second half but other than that he was masterful.

Daly is quick, has good footballing ability and there is no other kicker in world rugby that you would want stepping up to nail a long range penalty.

Eddie Jones may have finally found his best XV with just months until World Cup, have England timed their run to 2019 to perfection? Jones will certainly hope so and a win over France at Twickenham on Sunday would be a massive step towards the Grand Slam in a World Cup year and the last time that happened well….a certain Jonny Wilkinson wrote himself in English rugby folklore.