Ireland are among the favourites to lift the upcoming Rugby World Cup having stormed to the Grand Slam in the 2023 Guinness Six Nations.
Andy Farrell’s side have been in indomitable form in recent years and their 42-player Rugby World Cup training squad boasts some of the world’s best.
However, only 33 stars can make it to France, with nine set to be cut from the squad ahead of the tournament.
Ireland have been drawn in Pool B with South Africa, Scotland, Tonga and Romania standing between them and a place in the knockout stages.
There are plenty of decisions that need to be made by Farrell and his coaching staff, so let’s take a look at four potential selection dilemmas in Ireland’s squad.
Who will get the nod at hooker?
Tom Stewart’s selection has left Farrell with a big decision to make at hooker.
Dan Sheehan, Rónan Kelleher, Rob Herring and Ulster’s uncapped newcomer Stewart have all been selected in the training squad.
Sheehan and Kelleher appear nailed on for a trip to France, should they stay injury free, after their performances in the Guinness Six Nations but that leaves just one spot for Herring and Stewart to tussle over.
Herring should have enough to hold off the stiff competition of his clubmate but Stewart can expect to play a big role in Ireland’s squad in the years to come.
Lots of locks to choose from
Ireland are spoilt for choice in the second row.
James Ryan, Tadhg Beirne and Iain Henderson are joined by Ryan Baird, Joe McCarthy and Kieran Treadwell in the 42-player squad.
However, they can’t all be on the flight to France.
Ryan and Beirne are two of the best in the world and Henderson could also have a case for appearing in that company after featuring in all but one of Ireland’s Guinness Six Nations games.
Baird’s impressive performances off the bench against Wales and France saw the lock force his way into the starting XV against England, so he stands a good chance of making the squad.
However, Farrell has a big call to make between Treadwell and McCarthy.
Treadwell has the experience at Test level and has rarely let his country down over the course of his 11 caps, which have included a try against Italy in the 2022 Championship.
He was the beneficiary of an injury to McCarthy ahead of this year’s Guinness Six Nations but with the 22-year-old now back to fitness, the battle will be intense to claim a spot on the plane.
Selection dilemmas at fly-half
If he is fit, Johnny Sexton is starting at fly-half for Ireland in France.
You can also expect to see Ross Byrne at the Rugby World Cup after he proved himself a more than capable deputy during the 2023 Guinness Six Nations.
That leaves Munster’s Jack Crowley and Ciarán Frawley of Leinster to battle it out for a likely berth as the third-choice 10.
Crowley burst onto the international stage over the last 12 months, impressing in a start against Australia last Autumn, and showed in his performance for Munster in their URC final victory that he can handle the big occasion.
But Frawley, one of four uncapped players in the squad, will hope to make his mark in the training camp and join his Leinster clubmates in France.
Big decisions in the back three
Ireland have some huge names in the back three but someone will have to miss out when Farrell names his final squad.
Winger Robert Baloucoune and full-back Jordan Larmour are already two of the big-name omissions from Ireland’s Rugby World Cup training squad.
Barring injury, James Lowe, Hugo Keenan and Mack Hansen should all be in the 33, leaving at most three places on the plane.
Jimmy O’Brien should also make it to France, while Keith Earls and Jacob Stockdale have a wealth of international experience but both have suffered with injuries in recent years.
Uncapped duo Calvin Nash and Jamie Osborne have forced their way into the training squad with some stunning displays for Munster and Leinster respectively, but would Farrell risk bringing two players without any international experience?
There is so much hanging in the balance, but with the goodwill he has built up since taking on the role, Ireland fans will have faith in Farrell to make the right call.