World Cup player profiles: Ireland

Date published: September 11 2015

Ahead of the 2015 Rugby World Cup, we take a look at all of the players set to feature in England. Next up, Ireland.

Forwards: Rory Best, Sean Cronin, Tadhg Furlong, Cian Healy, Jamie Heaslip, Iain Henderson, Chris Henry, Jack McGrath, Jordi Murphy, Sean O'Brien. Paul O'Connell (c), Peter O'Mahony, Mike Ross, Donnacha Ryan, Richardt Strauss, Devin Toner, Nathan White

Backs: Tommy Bowe, Darren Cave, Keith Earls, Luke Fitzgerald, Robbie Henshaw, Paddy Jackson, David Kearney, Rob Kearney, Ian Madigan, Conor Murray, Jared Payne, Eoin Reddan, Jonathan Sexton, Simon Zebo


Hooker    1.80m    107kg    15.08.1982

Best initially muscled his way into the Irish starting XV for the 2006 wins over South Africa and Australia. The Craigavon man shared the number two jersey with Jerry Flannery during the 2009 Grand Slam run, coming up with some big plays in all five games. Ulster's veteran hooker emerged from the 2011 World Cup with an enhanced reputation and captained Ireland in the 2012 Six Nations games against Scotland and England, as his work at the ruck make him seem like an extra flanker. He was a late call-up to 2013's Lions tour but had a disappointing time at the line-out.


Wing    1.91m    102kg    22.02.1984

A reliable contributor for Ireland, Bowe has over 60 caps for his country and five for the British and Irish Lions. A former minor Gaelic footballer, he became the first man from Monaghan to play for Ireland in 80 years. He made his international debut in 2004 and has gone onto establish himself as a mainstay in the side. In 2010 he was named Player of the Six Nations and IRUPA Players' Player of the Year. He was part of the 2013 Lions squad that beat Australia 2-1 and is one of the most consistent wings in world rugby, making him a key man for Ireland.


Centre    1.83m    97kg    05.04.1987

An Ulster stalwart who rarely has a bad game in the white jersey, Cave is a high-class operator who also organises his backline very well. He played for Ireland U20 in 2007 before making the next step up to the Wolfhounds and then to the senior side, making his international debut in May 2009 against Canada. Unfortunately for Cave during his time as a professional player, the Ireland number 13 shirt had been occupied by Brian O'Driscoll so caps were limited. Now he looks to push Jared Payne hard for a spot and with his ability to play 12, he's a solid option.


Hooker    1.81m    105kg    06.05.1986

Cronin made his name with the Ireland age-group and 'A' squads before making his senior bow in November 2009. He went on to make his first start in the 2010 June Test against New Zealand. Cronin joined Leinster from Connacht at beginning of the 2011/12 season and has featured regularly for both province and country throughout the past four campaigns, with his speed off the mark unrivalled in Ireland and possibly even Europe. Solid at the line-out and busy around the field, he is an ideal impact hooker to bring on in the second half for Leinster and Ireland.


Wing/Centre    1.80m    90kg    02.10.1987

The Munster stalwart came onto the rugby scene in 2007 as an exciting runner in the backline and in November 2008 earned himself an Ireland cap, against Canada at Thomond Park. He scored in that game with his first touch of the ball and impressed so much in his early career that Sir Ian McGeechan opted to take him on 2009's British and Irish Lions tour to South Africa as a so-called bolter. While he did not win a Test cap on that tour, he showed signs of class in bouncing back from a tough first start. Now over rotten luck with injuries, he looks deadly.


Fullback/Wing    1.86m    98kg    13.09.1987

A gifted rugby player blighted by injury, Fitzgerald is fit and firing ahead of the 2015 Rugby World Cup. Fitzgerald has played all of his club rugby for Leinster and made his debut back in 2006, going on to make over 140 appearances for the side so far. His good form resulted in a call up for Ireland and he made his debut in November 2006, becoming the youngest player to play for Ireland in 29 years. He became a regular in the Irish side and won a Test cap for the British and Irish Lions on their 2009 tour to South Africa. Injuries have disruped Fitzgerald’s international career and despite nearly a decade playing for Ireland, 2015 will be his first Rugby World Cup having missed out in 2007 and 2011.


Prop    1.85m    119kg    14.11.1992

Yet another impressive prop to come off the Leinster conveyer belt, Furlong is one of the surprise inclusions in Ireland's squad. Included due to Marty Moore being injured, Furlong is extremely light on caps and experience on the international stage and could well find his best hope of minutes in the RWC coming against the likes of Canada and Romania. As a youngster, the mobile Furlong also played gaelic football.


Prop    1.85m    112kg    07.10.1987

Rated as one of the most dynamic and powerful loosehead props in the game, the Leinster-man has over 50 caps for his country going into the tournament. He has won the PRO12 and European Cup and Challenge Cup with his province and the Six Nations Championship with Ireland. His fitness had been a concern ahead of the World Cup but he has been given the all-clear regarding a neck problem, which is a boost for the Irish.


Number Eight    1.93m    109kg    15.12.1983

Son of former Shannon player Richard Heaslip, a Colonel in the Irish Army, Jamie made the senior Ireland number eight jersey his own during the 2008 Six Nations. He enjoyed a great year in 2009, winning his first European Cup with Leinster, while starring for Ireland in their Grand Slam run and being nominated for the 2009 World Player of the Year. Succeeded Brian O'Driscoll as Ireland captain for the 2012/2013 season and despite Paul O'Connell taking over under new coach Joe Schmidt, Heaslip is still an influential member of the team who's a top quality eight.


Lock/back-row    1.98m    116kg    21.02.1992

He played for Ireland at U19 and U20 level before receiving a call-up to the senior set-up in October 2012. Henderson made his senior debut for Ireland in the defeat to South Africa at the Aviva Stadium in November that year at the age of 20, which was an incredible achievement for a player in his position. He has since progressed in stature and attributes whilst also maturing as a player for Ulster, with his big tackles and speed around the field making him a prized asset. His ability to play either lock or in the back row make him a decent option off the bench.


Flanker    1.91m    107kg    17.10.1984

A smart, ball-carrying back-row, Henry had impressive run-outs for the Ireland U21 and Sevens outfits before featuring strongly for Ireland 'A' in the 2009 Churchill Cup. He made his full Ireland debut in June 2010 against Australia. Henry also captained Ulster in the 2009/10 season and was named as the province's Player of the Year in their run to the 2012 Heineken Cup Final. It's not been smooth sailing for the flank though as Henry only recently returned from heart surgery after a brain blood vessel blockage, which makes his inclusion all the more impressive.


Centre    1.92m    99kg     12.06.1993

He was viewed as the successor to Brian O'Driscoll in the Ireland number 13 jersey but has instead become a permanent fixture at 12. Henshaw made his debut for Connacht in 2012. Having previously represented Ireland at Schools, U18 and U19 levels, he was included in Ireland's training squad for the 2013 Six Nations. Henshaw made his senior debut for Ireland against the USA in 2013, starting at full-back at the age of 19 and has gone from strength to strength over the past year, earning of starts at inside centre alongside Jared Payne. A real classy operator.


Fly-half    1.78m    87kg    05.01.1992

The talented Ulster fly-half made his debut at provincial level when he just 19 years of age and will travel to the Rugby World Cup as one of the younger players in Ireland’s squad. Jackson was born in Belfast and rose through the Ireland U20 ranks before making his senior debut in 2011 with Ulster. Good performances meant that Jackson was called up to play for the Ireland ‘A’ side in 2013 before making his full international debut in the 2013 Six Nations against Scotland. Jackson started three matches during that year’s tournament with Ireland mainly using him off the bench as a fly-half, centre of full-back since then. Jackson scored his first international try against Wales in the 2014 Six Nations.


 Fullback/Wing    1.81m    91kg    19.06.1989

The younger brother of Ireland and British and Irish Lions full-back Rob Kearney, Dave made his debut for Ireland back in 2013. Like his brother Kearney plays for Irish province Leinster in the PRO12 and made his debut for the side back in 2009. Kearney had previously been a regular for the Ireland U20 outfit and has risen through the ranks with Ireland since then, appearing for the ‘A’ side in 2011 and 2012 along with the Emerging Ireland XV. His Test debut came in 2013 against Samoa when Kearney came off the bench to score two tries for his country. He started in all of Ireland’s matches during their victorious 2014 Six Nations campaign before recovering from injury in time for the Rugby World Cup.


Full-back    1.85m    95kg    26.03.1986

Kearney has firmly established himself in the Ireland team since his debut in 2007. His coolness under a high ball, counter-attacking ability and siege-gun boot have also seen him pick up a Grand Slam and European Cup winners medals with Leinster. Toured with the British and Irish Lions in 2009 and 2013 but missed 2011's Six Nations through injury before returning for the World Cup later that year. Kearney was named European Player of the Year for 2012 after a stellar campaign and is a real threat with ball in hand who will cause teams problems at this RWC.


Fly-half    1.80m    91kg    21.03.1989

Madigan's primary position is at fly-half, although he can also play at centre and full-back. He made his senior debut for Leinster back in 2009 and made his 100th appearance for the province in 2014. Madigan was drafted into the Ireland squad for the first time in 2013 and has clearly impressed the international selectors with his qualities with ball in hand. His ability to cover more than one position gives him a vital leg-up on his rivals and a strong individual 2015 for Leinster will give him confidence of holding down a place in Ireland's matchday 23.


Prop     1.85m    122kg    11.10.1989

Dublin prop McGrath is a graduate of the Leinster Academy having made a name for himself as a teenager playing Schools Cup with St Mary’s College. A regular in the front row for the Ireland U20s in recent seasons, he was named "man of the match" in his senior debut against Samoa in November 2013. Since then he's gone from strength to strength for province and country and become a reliable loosehead, particularly when Cian Healy was out injured. An able back-up to Healy who could even push his powerful team-mate for the starting jersey at the World Cup.


Flanker    1.88m    106kg    22.04.1991

Born in Barcelona, Spain, Murphy has progressed through the age groups of Irish rugby and firmly established himself as a regular for Leinster. Despite being just 24, the flanker or number eight has plenty of experience in the provincial game and has grown as a player with every opportunity he has been given for Ireland. A tall, dynamic ball carrier, Murphy knows his way to the try-line and is a constant threat.


Scrum-half    1.88m    95kg    20.04.1989

A strong end to the 2010/11 season with Munster saw the scrum-half called into the Ireland squad for the 2011 World Cup, and he went on to play four times at the tournament in New Zealand. Tall, quick, strong and hailing from Limerick, Murray has enjoyed a meteoric rise since making his competitive debut for Munster in April 2010. A very successful 2013 British and Irish Lions tourist to Australia and helped Ireland win the 2014 and 2015 Six Nations Championship, Murray has established himself as a high-class nine who is key to his country's World Cup hopes.


Back-row    1.88m    108kg    14.02.1987

A ball carrying workhorse for the Irish and Leinster over the years, O'Brien made his provincial debut in September 2008 after making a good impression for Ireland U20 in 2007. He was called up to the Irish senior squad in 2009 ahead of the November Tests and made his debut as a substitute against Fiji. He has since gone on to become a regular starter for his country and also represented the 2013 British and Irish Lions. If he remains injury free, there is little doubt that O'Brien will start in the XV at the World Cup as his devastating power makes him a threat.


Lock    1.98m    114kg    20.10.1979

Recognised as one of the best second rows in world rugby, O'Connell was named as Ireland captain for the 2012 Six Nations. A British and Irish Lions Test player in 2005, he went on to captain the Lions on their tour to South Africa in 2009 before featuring in South Africa in 2013. A World Player of the Year nominee in 2006, he also skippered Munster to European Cup glory in 2008. He won the Six Nations in 2009 and 2014 and has been a colossal figure for his country over the years. The World Cup is his international swansong so he'll be craving the trophy.


Flanker    1.91m    107kg    17.09.1989

A former Ireland U20 captain, O'Mahony had the honour of captaining the senior squad on the 2013 June Tour to USA and Canada, making him the youngest Irish captain, at 23, since Brian O'Driscoll. He made his full debut against Italy in 2012 and has filled in across all three back-row positions since then. O'Mahony captained Munster for the 2013/14 season, fulfilling a long-term backing from senior peers that he would be a leader at a young age. A real physical presence who leads from the front, he is one of many players capable of captaining this Irish team.


Centre    1.88m    95kg    13.10.1985

Ulster centre or full-back Payne played for New Zealand at U21 level but received his first call-up for Ireland in 2014 after becoming eligible on the three-year residency rule. Payne made a name for himself as a full-back in Super Rugby for the Blues but has played in the number thirteen jersey for Ulster of late and has filled the big void left by the retirement of Brian O'Driscoll very well, combining nicely with inside centre Robbie Henshaw in midfield. A classy back who's taken to international rugby with relative ease, with his move north seemingly paying off.


Scrum-half    1.76m    83kg    20.11.1980

Ireland's first choice scrum-half during the 2007 World Cup, Reddan's consistent displays for club and country marked him out as one of Europe's best number nines. He enjoyed spells at Munster, Connacht and Wasps before signing for Leinster in 2009. He's since tasted European Cup glory twice with Leinster to go with his Wasps success and continues to be a valuable squad member for both province and country. With all his experience, Ireland would be wise to utilise his know-how but in all honesty, it's expected the fight will be to be Conor Murray's back-up.


Prop    1.88m    127kg    21.12.1979

A key man in the Irish scrum, Ross made his name playing in the Premiership for Harlequins. The former Cork Constitution player made the move from Munster and played for four years at the highest level in England. Joined up with Leinster in 2009, making over 100 appearances, and made his Ireland debut on the 2009 tour to Canada and the USA. An ever present for his country throughout recent seasons, he's one of their senior players in terms of age but still offers plenty around the field to go with his solid scrummaging. At 35, this will be his last World Cup.


Lock/Flanker    2.01m    114kg    11.12.1983

An outstanding forward for both Munster and Ireland over the years, due in part to his ability to be equally effective at lock or on the flank, Ryan is well respected in the game. Born in Limerick, Ryan has been with Munster all of his career, making him a crowd favourite while his recent form for Ireland has seen his reputation enhanced on the Test scene. Powerful, mobile and a workhorse, Ireland need him firing.


Fly-half    1.88m    92kg    11.07.1985

Sexton really came of age during Leinster's successful European Cup run in 2009, starring in the final victory over Leicester. Later that year he scored all fifteen points in Ireland's win over South Africa. He joined French side Racing 92 at start of 2013/14 campaign after a hugely successful time with Leinster. That had followed Sexton being first choice fly-half for the British and Irish Lions on their successful tour of Australia in 2013, where he scored a key try in the third Test against the Wallabies. Now having left Racing, his focus is on Ireland.


Hooker    1.74m    102kg    29.01.1986

Born in South Africa, this Leinster hooker is the brother of Edinburgh centre Andries Strauss and the cousin of South Africa hooker Adriaan Strauss. A product of Grey College, he joined Leinster from the Cheetahs in 2009, winning the European Cup with them in 2011. Strauss made his international debut against the Springboks in 2012 but in October 2013, he was diagnosed with a heart condition that required surgery. However, he returned to the rugby field in January 2014, proving his industrious style on the pitch is matched off it. A solid option at hooker.


Lock    2.08m    124kg    29.06.1986

One of the tallest rugby players around, the former Castleknock College player has established himself as a high class second-row at Leinster in recent seasons and made his senior Ireland bow in November 2010 against Samoa. Toner made his first Six Nations appearances in 2013 against Scotland and Italy and followed this up with further appearances on the 2014 tour to USA and Canada. He has continued to improve his all-round game over the past year and enters the World Cup in his best ever form, with his line-out dominance complimented by work around the field.


Prop    1.88m    122kg    04.09.1981

Born in Hawera, New Zealand, White won his first caps for Ireland during the warm-up matches in August ahead of the Rugby World Cup. White spent nine years playing for Waikato in the ITM Cup back in New Zealand, and was a member of the Chiefs’ Super Rugby side for five years between 2006 and 2011. He made 41 appearances for the Chiefs during that time. White headed to Ireland in 2011 on a one-year contract with Leinster, who he played for regularly before moving to Connacht. White has made close to 50 appearances for Connacht since then, qualifying to play for Ireland after completing his three-year residency. He was first named in the Ireland squad in October 2014 but injuries delayed his debut until the 28-22 win over Scotland in August 2015.


Wing    1.88m    94kg    16.03.1990

A British and Irish Lions tourist in 2013, Zebo was first called up to the Irish Wolfhounds in 2012 after a spectacular hat-trick for Munster in the European Cup. He made his Ireland debut in June 2012 before impressing in November when he scored his first try against Argentina. Injury curtailed Zebo's involvement in the 2013 Six Nations but he returned to fitness to join up with the Lions Down Under, showing his quality with ball in hand on more than one occasion. A real livewire on the left wing, Zebo will be pushing hard for the eleven jersey at the World Cup.