Ireland Rugby: Back Row will be key to Ireland's World Cup prospects


After Ireland's rugby team swept past Italy on the way to winning Pool C, there were two obvious constants for fans to take away before the clash with Wales in the last 16.

The first is obvious, Ireland's build up to this year's world cup meant absolutely nothing. After losing all four of their warm up matches, Ireland preceded to win all four of their group stage games.

The other constant is somewhat obvious but not glaringly. It is not that either Ronan O'Gara or Jonathan Sexton is the best choice at out-half, that debate looks like never ending, nor is it Tommy Bowe's speed after his inconsistent performances.

No, the other constant, and the most pleasing thing, is the performances of the Irish back-row. Or more specifically: Sean O'Brien, Jamie Heaslip and Stephen Ferris.

Ireland meet Wales in Rugby World Cup quarter final after defeating Italy 36-6

Impressive Ireland ease into Rugby World Cup quarter-final clash with Wales

Sean O'Brien may have missed the first game against the USA, however his world class performance against Australia more than made up for that. O'Brien destroyed the Australians with his ball carrying ability and continued in that vain against Russia with a try.

The ball carrying ability of the back three as a whole has been a staple of this tournament.

While O'Brien's try is the solo effort from the group, excluding Shane Jennings' efforts, each player has proven to be a bruiser with the ball in hand. Jamie Heaslip has returned to the form he showed early in his career and at club level while Stephen Ferris health is not in doubt at the moment.

Ferris is a physical freak that is somehow playing to 100 percent speed and strength despite missing so much time ahead of the trip to New Zealand. His speed and strength at the blindside position essentially gives the team two sevens without taking away from the six position.

The loss of David Wallace ahead of the tournament was cause for major concern as nobody really believed that Ferris could sustain his level of play with his injury history. The other concern with losing Wallace, was that Ireland no longer had a natural openside flanker starting.

Shane Jennings is an outstanding rugby player, who would start for most nations, however Sean O'Brien has proven that he can more than be an adequate player in the seven jersey. O'Brien's ability to get around the field has meant that despite the loss of Wallace, Ireland still arguably has the best back row in world rugby.

The biggest reason for this is that none of the trio have any real flaws. Each is an excellent ball carrier, with great physical abilities and talent. None of them have to be covered in defense as they have all, Ferris in particular, excelled with big hits.

Work rate and the dirty work is vital for any rugby game. Each of Ireland's back row players is more than willing to carry their fair share in that facet of the game. While often times Paul O'Connell and Cian Healy receive praise for their work with the ball in hand, it is Ferris, Heaslip and O'Brien who are repeatedly hitting the rucks first to give Ireland clean ball.

The breakdown is a huge part of any rugby game and that is extenuated when the level of talent is elevated. Now that Ireland are in the last 16 of the world cup, the intensity and speed of the game will make the breakdown even more important.

With Rory Best potentially missing the team's next game, the back row forwards will need to step up to even greater heights than they already have. Best is a solid lineout thrower but his real talents are in the loose. His physical presence around the field will be missed should Sean Cronin take his place in the starting lineup.

That, coupled with the Welsh style of open rugby,  will put serious pressure on the Irish pack to maintain its high level of performances to this point.

A huge amount needs to happen before Ireland can even consider looking at a semi final date in this world cup. While Ronan O'Gara or Jonathan Sexton will need to keep kicking goals, and Tommy Bowe will need to cross the line a few more times, this team definitely cannot afford to lose the one constant that has been there to this point.

Sean O'Brien, Stephen Ferris and Jamie Heaslip may have confirmed to New Zealanders that they are the best back row in the world, but Ireland need them to take another step ahead if they are to show the world that they are the best team in the world.

Who'd have thought that was even a possibility during the warm-up games.


Ireland meet Wales in Rugby World Cup quarter final after defeating Italy 36-6

Impressive Ireland ease into Rugby World Cup quarter-final clash with Wales


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