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Dublin: 19 °C Wednesday 30 July, 2014

This is the Ireland squad we would pick if the World Cup was starting next week

We are 18 months away from the showpiece tournament and nailing our flag to the mast way too soon.

Ireland's Jamie Heaslip with the Six Nations trophy.
Ireland's Jamie Heaslip with the Six Nations trophy.
Image: Billy Stickland/INPHO

WE KNOW IT is 18 months to the 2015 Rugby World Cup but, with Six Nations fever still burning, we wish it was sooner. As Ireland coach Joe Schmidt pointed out midweek, there are only 10 Tests left before we kick-off the tournament at The Millennium Stadium.

Rather than focus on a Best XV to start against Canada in the tournament opener, we are looking ahead to what squad Schmidt may take with him as Ireland seek to do what they have never done before — get to the last four and go from there.

Below are our certainties, our good bets. All in all, it adds up to 30 men that can do the country proud. We will be left with about 20 players who will feel they have a legitimate shot at travelling to the big show next year.

Certainties [15]

Conor Murray and Jonathan Sexton celebrate with the Ireland RBS 6 Nations on there way back to Dublin

Conor Murray and Jonathan Sexton.

Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

The high numbers of quality wingers, the retirement of Brian O’Driscoll and Gordon D’Arcy’s age [he turns 35 next February] means there are less backs as nailed-on inclusions. Jared Payne of Ulster should win his first cap in the November series and can competently cover fullback and outside centre. There is a full pack ready to go, with Jack McGrath ready to challenge Cian Healy for the starting loose-head role.

Backs: Rob Kearney [FB], Jared Payne [FB], Robbie Henshaw [OC], Luke Marshall [IC], Jonathan Sexton [OH], Conor Murray [SH].

Forwards: Cian Healy [LH], Rory Best [H], Devin Toner [L], Paul O’Connell [L], Peter O’Mahony [BS], Sean O’Brien [OS], Jamie Heaslip [No.8], Jack McGrath [LH], Marty Moore [TH].

Good bets [15]

Chris Henry and Gordon D'Arcy celebrate after the game

Chris Henry and Gordon D'Arcy celebrate after beating Wales.

Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

Keith Earls and Tommy Bowe have too much class and try-scoring ability to be left out but there are places for Schmidt’s reliable backline lieutenants Dave Kearney, Andrew Trimble and the versatile Fergus McFadden. Eoin Reddan should have enough in the tank to travel as Conor Murray’s deputy, with Kieran Marmion snapping at his heels. Stephen Ferris may not make the starting XV — in our view — but he should prove an explosive, ball-carrying replacement. Mike Ross should travel but may be back up to Marty Moore come October 2015.

Backs: Andrew Trimble [RW], Tommy Bowe [LW], Gordon D’Arcy [IC], Dave Kearney [LW], Paddy Jackson [OH], Fergus McFadden [OC], Eoin Reddan [SH], Keith Earls [RW].

Forwards: Richardt Strauss [H], Iain Henderson [L], Mike Ross [TH], Chris Henry [OS], Donnacha Ryan [L], Jordi Murphy [OS], Stephen Ferris [BS].

Outsiders [21]

Rhys Ruddock in action

Rhys Ruddock in action against Italy.

Source: Colm O'Neill/INPHO

A lot of the players named here would have every right to feel aggrieved at missing out on selection. Simon Zebo can only respond to his playing exile by continuing to score tries in big matches for Munster. Luke Fitzgerald was unfortunate to pick up an injury just ahead of the Six Nations and it feels wrong not to have Ian Madigan involved in the 30-man squad. Rhys Ruddock, Robin Copeland and Tommy O’Donnell make up an excellent back row cover unit.

Backs: Darren Cave [OC], Simon Zebo [LW], Felix Jones [FB], Dave McSharry [IC], Stuart Olding [IC], Kieran Marmion [SH], James Hart [SH], Niall Morris [RW], Luke Fitzgerald [LW], Craig Gilroy [RW], JJ Hanrahan [OH], Ian Madigan [OH].

Forwards: Dave Kilcoyne [LH], Sean Cronin [H], Stephen Archer [TH], Mike McCarthy [L], Dan Tuohy [L], Robin Copeland [No.8], Rhys Ruddock [BS], Mike Sherry [H], Rodney Ah You [TH], Tommy O’Donnell [OS].

Feel free to leave a comment, below, or tweet us @rugby_ie with your thoughts on a possible Irish squad.

Analysis: How did Ireland win the Six Nations? (Part 1)

Analysis: How did Ireland win the Six Nations? (Part 2)

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