Ireland ring changes for final World Cup warm-up game against Samoa

Andy Farrell gives a clear indication towards selection decisions for World Cup squad and positive news on Dan Sheehan

Andy Farrell has made a dozen changes to the Ireland starting XV for their final World Cup warm-up game against Samoa in the Stade Jean Dauger on Saturday (kick-off 8.45pm local time/7.45pm Irish), with only Mack Hansen, Tadgh Beirne and Josh van der Flier retained from the team which kicked off last week’s 29-10 win over England.

This is a selection that would appear to contain a host of indications toward the composition of the 33-man squad for the World Cup which Farrell will unveil at lunchtime next Monday, and quite probably some pointers to the line-up for the second Pool game against Tonga.

Eight players from the starting XV in the 33-17 win over Italy almost three weeks ago are restored. As in that game, Jimmy O’Brien (who was forced off at half-time against Italy) starts at full-back, Robbie Henshaw and Stuart McCloskey renew their midfield partnership, and Keith Earls starts on the left wing in his third warm-up appearance – which would seem to be a clear pointer toward his probable selection for a fourth World Cup ahead of Jacob Stockdale.

Similarly, Jack Crowley is again at outhalf, as he was against Italy, in his third appearance in a row, while Conor Murray starts his first warm-up game, as do the front-row of Cian Healy, Tom Stewart and Finlay Bealham.


Ian Henderson returns to captain the side, as he did against Italy, while Ryan Baird starts again at blindside with Caelan Doris back in his familiar position of number eight.

Jeremy Loughman and Rob Herring are again among the replacements along with Tom O’Toole, who started against Italy, while in addition to Craig Casey and Ross Byrne, Farrell has also named an experienced trio of frontliners in James Ryan, Peter O’Mahony and Garry Ringrose on the bench.

Of the current 38-man squad only the injured Ronan Kelleher and Johnny Sexton have not appeared in the warm-up games, and the only other players not to start any of the three preparatory matches are Loughman and Ciaran Frawley.

The Irish head coach has also given a positive update on Dan Sheehan’s well-being following the foot injury he sustained last week against England.

“He’s good. He’s got a sprained ligament in his foot. Better than expected. We expect him to be fit for the World Cup.”

The likelihood remains that Sheehan might only be fit for Ireland’s third pool game against South Africa, all the more so given Farrell’s response when asked how likely it might be that the injured hooker would be ready for the opening pool game against Romania in a fortnight.

“We’ll see how he progresses and with all injuries you see how they develop over the period of time, don’t you? But we expect him to be fit for the World Cup.”

The gamble on including Sheehan in the World Cup squad seems well worth taking, albeit Kelleher’s nagging hamstring issue is a concern, but Farrell indicated that the latter ought to be ready for that World Cup pool opener.

“As far as Rónan’s concerned, he’s doing great. He’s flying around the place at this moment in time. This week, at a push if it was a World Cup semi-final or final we could have got him over the line but there’s no need to do that. He’s in good spirits.”

Whether or not any injury concerns affect the coaches’ thinking, Farrell said they were not likely to deviate from their preference for an 18/15 or 19/14 split, though he wasn’t inclined to provide any indications as to which way they are learning.

“We’ve always been pretty clear on that. Having said that, there’s a few more days isn’t there for moving parts, et cetera isn’t there? We’ll adapt to that, but we’ve been pretty clear from the start as to what we want. It’s all different with different personnel in different teams, you’ve got to do what’s right for your group.”

Looking ahead to Saturday’s game, Farrell said “I think we got better in the second game [against England]. We scored some fantastic tries.

“It’s consistency, isn’t it? That’s why we’re playing the warm-up games, to make sure that we get a bit of the rust out. Show some pictures, etc, of what’s acceptable and what’s not.

“We’re here to take a step forward in our development as a team.”

IRELAND: Jimmy O’Brien (Leinster); Mack Hansen (Connacht), Robbie Henshaw (Leinster), Stuart McCloskey (Ulster), Keith Earls (Munster); Jack Crowley (Munster), Conor Murray (Munster); Cian Healy (Leinster), Tom Stewart (Ulster), Finlay Bealham (Connacht), Iain Henderson (Ulster, capt), Tadhg Beirne (Munster), Ryan Baird (Leinster), Josh van der Flier (Leinster), Caelan Doris (Leinster).

Replacements: Rob Herring (Ulster), Jeremy Loughman (Munster), Tom O’Toole (Ulster), James Ryan (Leinster), Peter O’Mahony (Munster), Craig Casey (Munster), Ross Byrne (Leinster), Garry Ringrose (Leinster).

Gerry Thornley

Gerry Thornley

Gerry Thornley is Rugby Correspondent of The Irish Times