Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt has named his 23-man squad for their opening Rugby World Cup game against Scotland on Sunday, but it has caused some concern.
Going into the first match Schmidt would have had plans for his team but surely starting with his two of his second-choice back-three options wasn’t one.
It is an exciting prospect having Andrew Conway and Jordan Larmour in the back-three alongside Jacob Stockdale. However, against Scotland, the team thought to be Ireland’s biggest contender for top spot in pool A, you can imagine the plan was to have Keith Earls and Rob Kearney or at least one in the starting XV.
The team is already missing a huge player in the midfield with Robbie Henshaw out due to a hamstring problem.
Kearney and Earls were suffering from calf and knee injuries earlier in the week and it was reported that they could have played on Sunday, but it seems unlikely that if they were both available that neither would be selected.
It raises the question of did Schmidt bring not only the right back-line players but did he bring enough?
Joey Carbery has been making his way back from an ankle injury picked up in Ireland’s warm-up game against Italy, but wasn’t ready for this weekend.
All of those things have led to Schmidt naming a back-line that although exciting, it appears to lack a certain stability and not only that, the bench is worrying.
Luke McGrath and Jack Carty are obvious choices for the 21 and 22 jerseys but Chris Farrell has been chosen at 23, covering the rest of the backs, which appears far from ideal.
It would seem as though Ireland’s hand has been forced with only nine of the 13 backs brought to Japan being fully fit, meaning the players that were picked, had to be picked!
If you think of a couple of possible situations, such as if Conway, Larmour or one of the centres get injured on Sunday, what would happen?
If Conway gets injured on the wing, does that force Farrell to come on in the centre and switching Garry Ringrose out to Conway’s position? Does a similar situation occur if Larmour picks up an injury?
That would leave Ireland’s only fully fit centres in Ringrose, Farrell and Bundee Aki all on the pitch with a game against Japan only six days after the clash against the Scots. If one of those were to suffer a blow or just simply lack form, where does that leave Ireland’s back-line?
Already you are looking at a stretched squad, a vulnerable squad. One can only wonder if Schmidt should have taken the versatile Will Addison to Japan, or Ross Byrne as a fly-half and Carbery as a cover in the back-line?
Ireland will hope to come through the game with no further concerns, but there is a chance that going into the second game of the tournament players could be rushing themselves back from injuries just to make up the numbers.
It is hard to predict what will happen, but it is something that fans should take note of, another injury and this squad could be in trouble.
Henshaw, Earls, Kearney and Carbery will be hoping for speedy returns to action, and it is vital in a tournament like this that the squad is managed and rotated correctly or things can turn into a crisis very quickly.
Let’s hope that all the players are back to full-fitness in the coming days, but no matter what way it is spun this is far from the ideal start to the campaign for Schmidt and co.
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Match schedule and match officials confirmed for Rugby World Cup 2021 Europe Qualifier
World Rugby has confirmed the match schedule and match officials for the Rugby World Cup 2021 Europe qualifier, which will be hosted in Parma’s Stadio Sergio Lanfranchi on 13, 19 and 25 September, 2021.
Scotland kick-off their qualification campaign against Italy on Monday 13 September (kick-off 2pm BST / 3pm local time), before facing Spain on Sunday 19 September (kick-off 5pm BST / 6pm local time). Scotland’s final match of the tournament will see them take on Ireland on Saturday 25 September (kick-off 5pm BST / 6pm local time).
The top team will secure a spot in Pool B at Rugby World Cup 2021, playing in 2022, and the runner-up will enter the Final Qualification Tournament.
An experienced team of match officials have been appointed for the tournament, including Aurelie Groizeleau (FFR), Nikki O´Donnell (RFU), Hollie Davidson (SRU), Clara Munarini (FIR), Maria Beatrice Benvenuti (FIR) and Maria Pacifico (FIR), alongside Television Match Officials Andrea Piardi, Gianluca Gnecchi and Stefano Penne (all FIR).
The opening match day will see Aurelie Groizeleau take charge of Scotland’s meeting with hosts Italy at 15:00 local time, before Nikki O´Donnell oversees Spain against Ireland at 18:00, the first test match between the sides since May 2008.
Hollie Davidson and Aurelie Groizeleau will take charge of day two matches when Italy face Ireland at 15:00, followed by Spain against Scotland at 18:00, respectively. Italy’s only victory in their last 18 meetings with Ireland came at the Stadio Sergio Lanfranchi in February 2019, winning their last meeting on Italian soil 29-27.
While, Hollie Davidson and Clara Munarini will oversee the final match day when hosts Italy face Spain at 15:00, followed by Ireland v Scotland at 18:00 in their first meeting since February 2020. Italy and Spain have not met since Rugby World Cup 2017, Las Leonas winning their pool encounter 22-8 before the Azzurre avenged that defeat by winning their ninth place play-off 20-15.
Nine teams have already confirmed their place at Rugby World Cup 2021, including New Zealand, England, France, Canada, USA, Australia and Wales via their final ranking at Ireland 2017, and South Africa and Fiji who came through the Africa and Oceania regional qualification tournaments respectively.
Rugby World Cup 2021 Tournament Director Alison Hughes said: “We are delighted to confirm the match schedule and a highly qualified team of match officials for what promises to be three exciting and hotly contested matchdays in the Europe Qualifier as all four participating teams will be aiming to claim the prize of a place at Rugby World Cup 2021 in New Zealand alongside the best women’s 15s teams in the world. We continue to work in close partnership with the hosts and all participating unions to ensure we deliver a safe and secure event and give the players the opportunity to showcase their talents on the pitch.”
Scene set for super-charged Rugby World Cup as new dates in 2022 confirmed
- Matches will take place between 8 October–12 November, 2022 in Auckland and Whangārei
- RWC 2021 tournament window increases from 35 to 43 days (including 5 days ahead of first match)
- Match schedule prioritises player welfare with five-day minimum rest days
- Revamped format with all fixtures to be played on weekends with triple-header matches scheduled per day
- New Rugby World Cup 2021 brandmark unveiled, including bespoke te reo Māori version for tournament promotion in New Zealand
Rugby World Cup 2021 will feature increased rest periods for all teams following World Rugby’s confirmation of the revised tournament dates which will now see New Zealand host the tournament between 8 October-12 November, 2022.
With the ambition of super-charging the schedule for players, fans and the host nation, the tournament window, including preparation ahead of the first match, will be extended from 35 to 43 days resulting in all teams having a minimum of five rest days between matches. This aligns with the approach recently approved for the men’s competition.
The extension of the tournament window, also allows for a revamped tournament format that will see all matches take place on Saturdays and Sundays, with no overlap, meaning fans will not miss a moment of the first women’s edition of a Rugby World Cup to be hosted in the southern hemisphere.
With the tournament starting later in the year, players and fans will benefit from warmer weather and longer daylight hours. The pool phase will be played on the weekends of 8-9, 15-16 and 22-23 October, 2022 at Eden Park, Northlands Events Centre in Whangārei and Waitakere Stadium.
The quarter-finals will take place on 29-30 October followed by semi-finals on Saturday, 5 November. The bronze final and RWC 2021 final will be played on Saturday, 12 November, with Eden Park set to create history by becoming the first stadium to host both the men’s and women’s Rugby World Cup finals.
A detailed match schedule and broadcast timings will be announced at a later date.
In addition to the revised tournament dates, World Rugby has also unveiled new tournament brandmarks retaining reference to 2021, the year the tournament was originally intended to take place, while conveying to fans and audiences that the tournament will now be played in 2022. A bespoke te reo Māori version of the new brandmark has also been designed for tournament promotion in New Zealand. This reflects the importance of te reo as an official language of Aotearoa, New Zealand and to signify the desire to celebrate the unique Māori culture for all those connected with the tournament.
World Rugby Chairman Sir Bill Beaumont said: “We are fully committed to accelerating the women’s game at all levels and while the postponement was disappointing for everyone, it has provided the unique opportunity to review every aspect of the event to ensure it is the best it can be for the players, fans around the world and the wonderful and enthusiastic New Zealanders.
“Longer rest periods between matches for all teams is further commitment to delivering comprehensive player welfare standards at RWC 2021.
“I would like to thank all stakeholders for their support and open-minded approach to this process and we can now look forward to a truly spectacular Rugby World Cup 2021, playing in 2022.”
International Rugby Players appointee to the RWC Board, Melodie Robinson, said: “While it’s disappointing that the 2021 tournament had to be postponed, the positive is that we’ve been able to ensure the 2022 event and subsequent Rugby World Cups will have a minimum five-day turnaround for players.
“Just like the men’s tournament, this will hopefully help to level the playing field for all sides and see an increase in competitive matches.”
Rugby World Cup 2021 Tournament Director Michelle Hooper said: “We are delighted that together with World Rugby we have been able to further super-charge the women’s game here in New Zealand with the confirmation of the new dates in 2022 and the amendments to the tournament format. We are excited to be hosting Rugby World Cup here in Aotearoa, New Zealand.
“The momentum for women’s sport is continuously building and we look forward to demonstrating this to the world through the unstoppable energy that will be on display during Rugby World Cup in 2022. We can’t wait to welcome the world’s best women’s rugby players to our shores and share the Manaakitanga so intrinsically linked to our people and our place and rugby in Aotearoa, New Zealand with them and their fans.”
In a commitment to delivering an outstanding Rugby World Cup 2021, playing in 2022, earlier this year World Rugby announced a £2 million funding package to support a Rugby World Cup 2021 high performance preparation and competition programme for qualified teams and teams still competing in the qualification process.
The programme will focus on providing teams with additional monetary support to deliver additional team training camps and coordinating international competition to give them the greatest opportunity to be at their best in New Zealand next year. Further details will be announced at a later stage.
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