O'Driscoll leads Irish challenge
Ireland have named a 30-man squad with a blend of youth and experience that they hope can bring the Rugby World Cup success that has thus far eluded the country.
Ireland have never progressed beyond the quarter-final stage, but in captain Brian O’Driscoll they have one of the most respected – and feared – players in the world.
Along with the likes of no-nonsense second row Paul O’Connell, Ireland have had the personnel to be there or thereabouts in the Six Nations in recent years.
Rugby World Cups, however, have been a different matter. In 2007 Ireland failed to progress from an admittedly strong group featuring eventual semi-finalists Argentina and France, and in 2003 the Irish were comprehensively beaten by the French in the quarter-finals.
Their greatest showing to date was in 1991 when they had Australia on the rack with seconds to go in one of the most exciting finishes in RWC history. Flanker Gordon Hamilton scored to send the Lansdowne Road crowd into raptures, only for Michael Lynagh to regain the lead for the eventual world champions.
O’Driscoll and O’Connell are appearing in their third World Cup, and at 32 and 31 respectively are unlikely to figure in the next one. While they have a Six Nations Grand Slam, Lions tours and Heineken Cup titles on their CV, the pair are primed to propel their country’s golden generation to greatness.
Coach Declan Kidney’s 30-man squad comprises 16 forwards and 14 backs and is evenly split between players with previous World Cup experience, and those joining the global gathering for the first time.
Several 2009 British and Irish Lions will be on the plane to New Zealand – as well as O’Connell and O’Driscoll, Tommy Bowe, Gordon D'Arcy, Keith Earls, Jamie Heaslip, Rob Kearney, Ronan O'Gara, Donncha O'Callaghan and David Wallace make the trip.
However, there is no place for another Lion, wing Luke Fitzgerald, nor the Munster scrum half Tomas O'Leary with Conor Murray getting the nod little more than a week after making his Test debut against France in Bordeaux.
Ireland’s pack will not be short of ballast with the selection of the Sale Sharks tighthead prop Tony Buckley, who stands 196cm tall and weighs in at 135kg.
Other players to watch include Jonathan Sexton, the Leinster fly half who pitched in with 28 points to drag his side back from a 16-point deficit in this year’s Heineken Cup final against Northampton Saints to seal victory.
Ireland still have another hit-out before the tournament, facing England in Dublin on Saturday before flying out to New Zealand on Tuesday, 30 August.
Ireland squad for RWC 2011:
Forwards: Rory Best, Tony Buckley, Tom Court, Sean Cronin, Leo Cullen, Stephen Ferris, Jerry Flannery, Cian Healy, Jamie Heaslip, Denis Leamy, Sean O'Brien, Donncha O'Callaghan, Paul O'Connell, Mike Ross, Donnacha Ryan, David Wallace.
Backs: Tommy Bowe, Isaac Boss, Gordon D'Arcy, Keith Earls, Rob Kearney, Fergus McFadden, Geordan Murphy, Conor Murray, Brian O'Driscoll (captain), Ronan O'Gara, Eoin Reddan, Jonathan Sexton, Andrew Trimble, Paddy Wallace.
Squad subject to RWCL approval
- South Africa
- New Zealand