Ireland, Scotland and Wales have now all finalised and announced their squads for the upcoming Rugby World Cup and here we take a look at the main talking points from the squad announcements.
Ireland coach, Joel Schmidt, has made the headlines this week by naming only two scrum-halves in his final 31 man squad with Ian Madigan named basically as a utility back to cover every position from 9 to 15. Even for a versatile player like Madigan, being asked to cover a raft of positions during a World Cup is a huge ask and many in the media feel that this is a gamble that Schmidt could lose. Schmidt has commented that he has gone with his gut instinct on the scrum-half decision, as a coach who bases so much of his regime on minute detail, this is a contradiction in itself. The gamble may well pay off for Schmidt but if issues and injuries do occur, leading to Ireland underperforming, then the blame will lay fully with Schmidt.
The other main talking point from Schmidt’s selection is the omission of winger Andrew Trimble. Voted Ireland’s player of the year in 2014, Trimble has struggled with a foot injury in recent months but looked back to his best in Ireland’s recent warm-up match victory over Wales. His lack of positional versatility may have been Trimble’s downfall but others argue that having an experienced specialist is no bad thing, especially at a World Cup.
Aside from these talking points, the Ireland squad is as expected, with no real surprises. Paul O’Connell will lead the side in what will be his last tournament before retiring from the international scene. As Six Nations champions for the past two years, Ireland come into the World Cup with high hopes but with expectation comes increased pressure and Ireland have, as yet, to make it past the quarter final stage in any World Cup. Ireland take on England this weekend in the final match for both teams before the World Cup kicks off – perhaps the best result that Ireland should focus on, is that they all make it back from Twickenham in one piece.
— Irish Rugby (@IrishRugby) September 1, 2015
Scotland coach, Vern Cotter, also announced his World Cup squad last week, with the main talking point being the inclusion of New Zealander, John Hardie, just over a month after the back-rower arrived in the country. Having finished the Super Rugby season with the Otago Highlanders, Hardie, who qualifies for Scotland through his Grandmother, arrived in Scotland in July and made a solid international debut against Italy in Turin. Hardie is selected in front of fellow New Zealander Blair Cowan, who had been Scotland’s first choice number 7 for last year’s autumn internationals and this year’s Six Nations championship. Also missing out in the back-row is John Barclay, who put on a fantastic display last weekend as Scotland routed Italy at Murrayfield 48-7. Cotter has been forced to defend the selection of Hardie, with many saying it appeared Hardie was guaranteed a squad position as soon he arrived from New Zealand, with him being parachuted into the squad at the expense of more established, home grown talent.
Cotter has also selected two South Africans in his final squad – prop WP Nel and back-rower Josh Strauss, with Strauss only qualifying for Scotland under residency rules five days before their tournament opener against Japan. Cotter has gone with a 17-14 forwards-backs split, with selection based with the aim of having at least two players for every position and with an emphasis on those who have the versatility to cover other positions too.
Cotter and Scotland will look to full-back Stuart Hogg to provide their attacking impetus. The young Glasgow player will take part in his first World Cup, having made his debut for Scotland in 2012 and having also toured with the British & Irish Lions in 2013 to Australia at the age of just 20. Hogg enjoyed a successful Six Nations championship this season, despite playing in a struggling side, making the most metres gained in the tournament and also beating the most defenders. Scotland fans will be hoping that Hogg can carry this form onto the World Cup stage as they aim to put their recent form behind them.
— Scottish Rugby (@Scotlandteam) September 1, 2015
Drawn in the so called ’group of death’, alongside hosts England and recently crowned Rugby Championship winners Australia, Wales are under pressure to even make it to the quarter final stage. Coach Warren Gatland has gone for a mixture of tried and trusted combinations but also a couple of surprises when announcing his squad this Wednesday.
Led by Sam Warburton, Gatland has named potentially the strongest squad that Wales have ever taken to a World Cup but there are areas of potential concern. Injuries to three selected locks have meant Gatland has had to name five second-rowers with the knock-on effect of being forced to take only two hookers, rather than the conventional three. With a hooker having to be on the bench for all matches, resources could be stretched, particularly if one of the two – Ken Owens or Scott Baldwin, pick up an injury. If one of them does pick up an injury, any replacement would have to be with the squad for a minimum of 48 hours before being eligible and the injured party would not be allowed to rejoin the squad. It’s clear that any issue here could cause Gatland, and Wales, a significant problem.
The midfield is another area potentially short of cover. Jamie Roberts and Scott Williams will be first choice pairing but again, if one of them was to pick up an injury, then the only conventional replacement is youngster Cory Allen. Allen has only two international appearances to his name so far and has not played competitively at any level since March of this year due to injury.
One positive for the squad is the return of winger George North. Curtailed by ongoing concussion issues since the turn of the year, North has now been cleared by the medical staff and made his return against Ireland last weekend. North has been retained for this weekend’s match against Italy and Gatland will be keen to ensure he remains fit and injury free. North is a potent finisher, having scored 22 tries for Wales in only 50 appearances and he also scored two tries for the British & Irish Lions in their series victory over Australia in 2013. North also holds the record for being the youngest ever try scorer at a Rugby World Cup, scoring against Namibia in the 2011 tournament when he was just 19-years-old. If North can remain injury free, then this will greatly enhance Wales’s chances of making it out of the ‘group of death’ and into the quarter finals.
— WalesOnline Rugby (@WalesRugby) August 31, 2015