Five main talking points as Ireland complete World Cup preparations against Samoa

By Sports Desk August 25, 2023

Ireland complete their World Cup warm-up fixtures on Saturday by taking on Samoa in Bayonne.

Head coach Andy Farrell is due to reveal his final 33-man squad for the tournament on Sunday afternoon.

Here, the PA news agency picks out some of the main talking points ahead of the match at Stade Jean Dauger.

Selection looming large

Ireland’s World Cup hopefuls have one final audition as they anxiously await news on selection.

Farrell will cut his current 39-man squad down on Sunday afternoon, with six players set to suffer disappointment.

He was initially scheduled to make his decisions public on Monday before opting to bring forward the announcement by 24 hours.

Iain Henderson, who will captain the side on Saturday, admits the situation has increased tension in the camp but insists the unfortunate players will be well supported.

Squad split

Only a few spots appear undecided, leaving a handful of peripheral players battling it out.

It is unclear whether Farrell will go for a 19-14 split of forwards and backs, or opt for 18-15.

The former would likely mean Stuart McCloskey and Keith Earls, who are set to start this weekend, and Jacob Stockdale and Ciaran Frawley, who will not be involved, are competing for one position.

Rookie forwards Cian Prendergast, Jeremy Loughman, Tom Stewart and Diarmuid Barron are among the others in danger of missing out.

Injury issues

A possible complication for Ireland’s final squad is the fitness situations surrounding a small number of players.

Back-rower Jack Conan has not played since limping off with a foot injury against Italy on August 5, while prop Dave Kilcoyne (hamstring) has also not featured since that game.

Undoubtedly the biggest potential problem for Farrell comes at hooker. Dan Sheehan is undergoing treatment on a foot ligament issue and Ronan Kelleher (hamstring) is yet to feature this summer.

The head coach has expressed confidence the four will be available for France.

Discipline matters

England’s sticky situation surrounding the suspensions of Owen Farrell and Billy Vunipola has brought disciplinary matters into greater focus.

Ireland coach Farrell is wary of there being “cards everywhere” at the moment following Vunipola’s Dublin dismissal last Saturday.

With captain Johnny Sexton poised to complete his three-match ban, Ireland certainly do not want any further suspension setbacks on the eve of the World Cup.

Farrell says his side are striving to be rugby’s most-disciplined team.

Samoa a “different animal”

Ireland are seeking to maintain momentum by registering a 13th consecutive win.

They last faced Samoa during the pool stage of the 2019 World Cup in Japan, which ended in a resounding 47-5 win, despite Bundee Aki’s first-half red card.

Skipper Henderson believes Ireland’s upcoming opponents have been improved significantly during the past four years.

“They pose huge threats, they’re definitely a different animal to the last time we played them,” he said.

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