Veteran Ireland hooker Rob Herring never doubted his ability to play at a Rugby World Cup as he prepares to make up for past disappointments with an overdue tournament debut.

South Africa-born Herring has been selected to start Saturday’s Pool B opener against Romania ahead of the fit-again Ronan Kelleher and in the absence of the injured Dan Sheehan.

The 33-year-old was called up by Joe Schmidt in the build-up to the 2015 and 2019 competitions before being cut from the final squads.

 

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He subsequently flew to Japan four years ago as an injury replacement for Sean Cronin but was not involved as Ireland crashed out in the quarter-finals to New Zealand and has since been eclipsed by the emergence of Leinster pair Sheehan and Kelleher.

 

“Yeah, it’s been a long run for me,” said Herring. “I was involved in the two previous World Cup pre-seasons and missed out on selection so I think all the work over the last year, it’s paid off to be here now.

“I always believed I was good enough to be here. The selection calls were tight in the last World Cup.

“I’ve been heavily involved in the squad since the last World Cup and I’m really enjoying my time under Faz (Andy Farrell) and the leadership of the coaches.

“It has been a great four years, and I’m just raring to go now.

“There’s obviously a bit more hype around the World Cup and a bit more pressure on games but that’s what we’ve been building for. Personally, I think I’m in a good place.”

Herring, who qualifies for Ireland through a grandparent, made his international debut as a replacement flanker during the 2014 tour of Argentina.

He had won just eight caps when head coach Farrell succeeded Schmidt after the 2019 World Cup but started all five matches of the 2020 Guinness Six Nations following the retirement of Rory Best.

Despite remaining a squad regular, Herring, who is set for his 38th Test outing this weekend, has become more peripheral since the breakthrough of dynamic duo Kelleher and Sheehan.

“My mindset going into it is this is just the start,” said the Ulster player.

“It’s a massive honour to be selected for the squad but this is just the start of it. I want to put my best foot forward and contribute to the team as well as I can.

“I think if I nail my role and everyone else does theirs, we will put in a strong performance.”

 

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Ireland will be led by Johnny Sexton in Bordeaux on his return from suspension and injury.

 

Herring believes fly-half Sexton is the type of captain team-mates “want to follow into battle”.

“Johnny is one of the most competitive guys I’ve ever played under,” he said.

“I think that’s his massive point of difference. He’s unbelievably driven, he drives the standards at training, off the pitch, everything.

“He’s got an incredible winning mindset so he’s the kind of guy you really want to follow into battle. You know he’s going to be right up there at his best and giving it his all. It’s been great having him back.”

Ireland back-rower Caelan Doris actively avoids the media hype surrounding him and feels his own high standards are sufficient pressure going into his first World Cup.

Doris is tipped to shine on the biggest stage in France, having been one of his country’s leading performers of the Andy Farrell era.

The 25-year-old has ranked highly on a series of recent lists of rugby’s top players, while Ireland great Brian O’Driscoll is among his many admirers.

 

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Doris believes he has room for significant further development and referenced comments from former Ireland number eight Jamie Heaslip as he bids to remain grounded.

“I remember hearing Heaslip saying something like ‘If you get inflated, you get deflated’,” said Doris, who made his Test debut in the first match of Farrell’s reign in the 2020 Six Nations.

“Probably my first year or two, I didn’t seek stuff out but I did see more than I do now. I try not to look at anything.

“I try not to have anything like that in my head or any other people’s expectations, I think my own are enough.

“There’s still plenty of room for improvement but I’m moving in the right direction.”

Doris has been a key cog in Ireland’s rise to the top of the Test rankings with a string of man-of-the-match displays.

He has now lined up in all three positions across the back row following his two-try outing at openside flanker in last month’s warm-up win over Italy.

Ireland were far below their free-flowing best in dispatching the Azzurri, England and Samoa in August.

 

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Yet Doris insists the Six Nations champions are brimming with confidence ahead of Saturday’s World Cup opener against Romania in Bordeaux.

“There’s massive belief in the group going into the first game,” he said.

“Pre-season can be a bit of a funny time.

“It’s not an excuse but you’re not always primed for the games as you might be other ones: different combinations, playing in slightly different positions, things like that.

“We’re very aware that we haven’t played our best stuff. I definitely think we can put in better performances going forward.”

While Doris’ career has been on an upward trajectory, he has suffered frustration at club level with Leinster following successive European Champions Cup final losses to La Rochelle.

He has proven himself the man for the big occasion with standout displays in Ireland’s statement wins across the past two years and is determined to do so again in the coming weeks.

“I love playing in these bigger games,” he said. “I feel, particularly with Leinster when it comes to finals, I haven’t played my best.

“I’m excited by the challenge of trying to deliver on the biggest stage and put out some of my best performances. Definitely looking forward to getting stuck in.”

Ireland scrum-half Jamison Gibson-Park is determined to make the most of his maiden World Cup following his unconventional late rise to Test-level rugby.

New Zealand-born star Gibson-Park was barely on the international radar at the time of the 2019 tournament in Japan, having only just qualified for his adopted nation on residency grounds.

The 31-year-old Leinster player, who represented the Maori All Blacks eight times between 2012 and 2015, had to wait a further year to be handed his debut by head coach Andy Farrell.

He immediately set his sights on a World Cup spot and quickly surpassed Conor Murray as Ireland’s first-choice number nine.

“It will be pretty awesome to get out there and have a run,” said Gibson-Park.

“Obviously a bit of a late bloomer – 31 at my first World Cup. It’s the pinnacle of rugby and you like to test yourself in the toughest environments. I’m looking forward to it.

“As soon as I was in the squad (I was thinking about the World Cup). As a player it’s always something you’re going to target.”

 

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Gibson-Park gained traction on social media this week by landing an audacious basketball shot from the roof of the team hotel, which was recorded and posted by team-mate Mack Hansen.

Asked how many takes it took, he replied: “The first one, obviously!

“We were there for a while, to be fair. Just messing on Sunday, trying to come up with stuff to do in the hotel and stay out of the heat. A bit of craic.”

Ireland begin their Pool B campaign on Saturday afternoon against Romania in Bordeaux, where Gibson-Park is expected to partner returning captain Johnny Sexton.

Veteran fly-half Sexton is poised for his first competitive appearance in almost six months, having missed Ireland’s three warm-up games through suspension on the back of a groin injury.

“He’s buzzing as you can imagine,” Gibson-Park said of his provincial team-mate.

“He’s been great. Seamlessly back into training like he always does. It will be good to see him back out there.”

Andy Farrell believes Ireland must remain calm and “roll with the punches” to realise their potential at the Rugby World Cup.

Former dual code international Farrell is preparing for his first global tournament as head coach having previously been involved as a player and an assistant coach.

Six Nations champions Ireland have topped the world rankings for more than a year and arrived in France on Thursday among the favourites to go all the way.

Englishman Farrell has welcomed setbacks during his tenure to challenge his players and prevent them becoming fazed on the biggest stage.

“The key learnings are the scenarios that we’ve tried to put ourselves through in the last few years,” the 48-year-old said of his previous World Cup experiences in both rugby union and rugby league.

“You hear me say constantly ‘best laid plans and all that’, it’s 100 per cent that at a World Cup.

“The ones that get flustered with all that because they’re not ready for all different types of permutations are the ones that lose the plot.

“The key to progressing in a competition like this is staying calm, keeping your feet under you and making sure that you just roll with the punches and be the best version of yourself no matter what happens and have no-excuse mentality.

“We’ve tried to put ourselves in those type of positions before and we know what’s coming through.”

Ireland have been placed in the tougher half of the draw and begin their campaign next Saturday against Romania in Bordeaux.

Farrell’s men then face Tonga, reigning champions South Africa and Scotland in Pool B, with hosts France or New Zealand likely opponents should they progress to the quarter-finals.

Asked if this is the most competitive and open World Cup, Farrell said: “I think everyone loves to say that anyway.

“Everyone wants it to be like that because there’s so many good teams that can beat each other on any given day.

“The pressures of the competition within itself, the history of all that shows that it is going to be a wide-open competition. So one step at a time. Let’s see if we can build some momentum.”

Farrell assisted Joe Schmidt at the 2019 World Cup before stepping up to become Ireland boss following a quarter-final exit against the All Blacks.

The opening year of his reign, amid the coronavirus pandemic, brought mixed results but his side have won 25 of 27 Tests dating back to round three of the 2021 Six Nations.

“I’m not surprised,” Farrell said of the progress. “If you’re talking four years ago then we probably didn’t know the total plan as in what we’ve been through and what we’re going through.

“The process has always been for the here and now, and the medium term, and the long term.

“A lot tend to go from cycle to cycle and chop a few and carry on.

“I think the right way, for me anyway, is to grow and develop competition as we go and then when we get to something like this (World Cup) watch and learn and let’s pick accordingly on what’s right on the team.”

There is a neat statistical symmetry that suggests the 2023 Rugby World Cup might be won by Ireland or France.

Since the sport’s world rankings were launched 20 years ago, all five subsequent world champions were either ranked first or fourth close to the tournament kicking off.

Ireland and France occupied those positions during recent weeks, and neither nation has previously been crowned world champions, with no new name being engraved on the trophy since England in 2003.

It is, of course, way more complicated than that to confidently suggest a winner but such a scenario underlines what many believe is a wide-open tournament.

In the World Cup’s 36-year history, only four countries – New Zealand, Australia, South Africa and England – have triumphed.

Six Nations champions Ireland and France can be added to the mix this time around, though, as genuine contenders, although a World Cup draw carried out in December 2020 has generated a serious imbalance with tournament heavyweights South Africa, New Zealand, Ireland and France all in its top half.

While those teams are on a quarter-final collision course in Paris, the best of the rest would point to Australia, Argentina, England and Wales.

There is real potential for the World Cup final to be a one-sided affair, which is not being critical of any participant, but more questioning why such an important draw is conducted so long before the competition.

France and New Zealand are in the same pool, while Ireland, South Africa and a dangerous Scotland team have been grouped together. Elsewhere, Pool C sees Australia, Wales and Fiji in direct competition, with England, Argentina and Japan the main Pool D protagonists.

France meet the All Blacks, who are reeling from their all-time record defeat of 35-7 in a warm-up fixture against South Africa, in a mouthwatering tournament opener.

The 40-match pool phase will be played out across nine host cities – Paris, Marseille, Nice, Bordeaux, Toulouse, Lyon, Lille, Saint-Etienne and Nantes – with £2.5million tickets sold.

It can only be hoped that France 2023 will be remembered for the rugby on show, with inevitable disciplinary matters not overshadowing it.

High tackles, foul play, red cards, yellow cards and disciplinary hearings will be part of it all. Coaches will want consistency, too, on punishments handed out by disciplinary chiefs – England captain Owen Farrell’s recent case highlighting that need – and all matters being efficiently and promptly dealt with.

If rugby is to be the winner, then it will require a host of superstar names to lead the way.

And that prospect is one to savour, given the presence of players such as France captain Antoine Dupont, South African backs Cheslin Kolbe and Canan Moodie, New Zealand full-back Beauden Barrett, Ireland’s current world player of the year Josh van der Flier, genial Fiji centre Semi Radradra and exciting Italian star Ange Capuozo.

The ingredients are all there for a genuine showcase of rugby at its finest, with some thunderous games in store and potentially memories to last a lifetime.

If France can cope with the enormous host nation pressure that will accompany them, then a magnificent first World Cup triumph for Dupont’s team would be one to savour.

There is a small queue forming behind them, though, potentially led by a South African squad that appears primed to successfully defend the world crown.

Conor Murray acknowledges Ireland’s record-breaking winning run and impressive achievements under Andy Farrell will count for very little at the Rugby World Cup.

Ireland travel to France as Six Nations Grand Slam champions and having topped the world rankings for more than a year on the back of their historic tour triumph in New Zealand.

Farrell’s men made it 13 consecutive victories with Saturday evening’s 17-13 success over Samoa in Bayonne – bettering the 12-game winning streak enjoyed under Joe Schmidt across 2017 and 2018.

Defeat in the first Test against the All Blacks in July 2022 was Ireland’s last loss and just one of two suffered in their previous 27 outings.

Scrum-half Murray is preparing for his fourth World Cup and knows the tournament is a “different animal”.

“We’re in a pretty good place, given where we have been over the last two years and what we have achieved,” he said.

“We never get carried away with ourselves. We know going into every game that we have to respect the opposition.

“It (form) going into a World Cup doesn’t count for much. You have to bring your best rugby when you get to the tournament, when the competition kicks off for real.

“But we know how good the team can be. We also know how hard we have to work to get to that level and be there every week.

“The summer series was good and people got hit outs and we feel match fit now, but it’s a different animal by the time the World Cup comes around.

“We know where we can go as a group, the confidence is really high.”

Murray claimed a crucial try as Ireland stuttered past Samoa on a soggy evening in south-west France, with the vast majority of a vocal sold-out crowd supporting their opponents.

The 34-year-old believes the experience will be beneficial moving forward, with hosts France a potential quarter-final opponent, if Ireland successfully negotiate a group containing reigning world champions South Africa, Scotland, Tonga and Romania.

“Along that road we’re going to have games when things don’t go perfectly and we have to find a way,” he said.

“The World Cup could be like that and probably will be like that, it won’t go perfectly.

“There’s going to be nights like this (Samoa), the atmosphere was really hostile, in a good way, but we’re going to have to deal with that kind of thing as well.

“We know how much pressure there’s going to be, how the atmospheres are going to be.”

Ireland received a timely reminder of the dangers of South Africa after their Pool B rivals emphatically dispatched New Zealand 35-7 on Friday evening.

Murray previously worked with Springboks head coach Jacques Nienaber and his assistant Felix Jones at Munster.

“We know what they’re like,” he said of South Africa.

“You could say New Zealand were poor but I thought South Africa put them under so much pressure it made them make mistakes.

“A lot of us have been coached by Jacques and Felix and we know what’s coming. Well, we think we know what’s coming, Jacques is always going to pull something out of nothing and something you didn’t expect.

“We’ve been watching South Africa and everyone else for a long time. I’m sure they will feel really good about where they’re at because that was a really good New Zealand side and they made them look not so good.”

Johnny Sexton admits the protracted disciplinary process which threatened to ruin his Rugby World Cup dream took a toll on his family but insists he is “not trying to play the victim”.

Ireland’s captain is unsure why he endured such a lengthy wait to discover his fate for “confrontational and aggressive” behaviour towards referee Jaco Peyper.

Almost two months passed between the fly-half’s heated exchange with the South African match official following Leinster’s 27-26 Heineken Champions Cup final loss to La Rochelle on May 20 and him eventually being hit with a three-match ban.

Sexton consequently sat out World Cup warm-up matches against Italy, England and Samoa but is available to start Ireland’s tournament opener against Romania in Bordeaux on September 9.

In the prolonged period when his punishment remained unclear, the 38-year-old, who is set to retire following the competition in France, faced intense speculation and public scrutiny amid calls for a substantial suspension.

“I’ve never seen another process last eight weeks or seven weeks, whatever it was,” said Sexton, who confronted Peyper on the Aviva Stadium pitch, having watched his province’s agonising defeat from the stands due to injury.

“It was incredibly frustrating not knowing what was going to happen. I’m not sure why it took so long, but that’s the way it was handled.

“I think when it affects your family you obviously go, ‘well, why are you upset?’ and (they reply) ‘this happened, this happened, this happened, this happened. Five weeks later, this is still happening’.

“Of course (you are aware of public commentary), but I’m not trying to play the victim.

“I made a mistake and I had to put up with what I had to put up with for seven weeks. You have to face up to your actions and that’s what I did.”

Sexton goes into his World Cup swansong having not played competitively since sustaining a groin issue in helping Ireland clinch a Six Nations grand slam against England on March 18.

His spell on the sidelines through injury and suspension means the 29-16 success over Steve Borthwick’s side was his final professional appearance in his homeland.

The 2018 world player of the year believes the “best guy in the world” meticulously plotted his road to recovery.

“For a kicker, to injure your adductors like I did is not ideal,” said Sexton, who was treated by a Doctor Griffin based in the UK.

“But thankfully the IRFU (Irish Rugby Football Union) sent me to the best guy in the world.

“He did a great job, he mapped it out for me and he was literally to the day accurate in what he told me in terms of when I could return to training, when I could kick a ball again.

“Thankfully it’s been good over the last number of weeks. Hopefully I will be in good shape come Romania.”

Ireland head to France top of the world rankings on the back of Six Nations glory and last summer’s historic tour triumph in New Zealand.

Andy Farrell’s men also face reigning world champions South Africa, Scotland and Tonga in their group ahead of a potential last-eight clash with either the host nation or the All Blacks.

Asked what gives him confidence of going all the way, Sexton replied: “What we’ve done over the last couple of years.

“I’ve been in groups before where you go to a World Cup and you say we’re here to win it but you don’t often have the achievements to back that up.

“(Whereas) we’ve got things like the grand slam, going to New Zealand and winning a series – stuff that other teams that have won it, like England in 2003 (have achieved).

“We’ve some evidence to give us a little bit of confidence but we also know that it’s the toughest group that we’ve ever had, the toughest quarter-final draw if we can manage to get through our group, so it’s all to do.”

Andy Farrell says Ireland are “devastated” to have lost veteran prop Cian Healy to injury ahead of the Rugby World Cup in France.

Healy has been left out of his country’s 33-man squad and is facing up to 10 weeks on the sidelines due to a calf issue sustained in Saturday evening’s 17-13 warm-up win over Samoa.

The 35-year-old – Ireland’s third most-capped player with 125 appearances – was helped off the pitch by medical staff in Bayonne and was later pictured on crutches.

Munster loosehead Jeremy Loughman will fill the void, with head coach Farrell holding faint hope of Healy possibly being fit to feature in the latter stages of the tournament.

“He’s just had a scan as we got off the plane and he’ll be out for a spell of time that won’t be right, unfortunately, for Cian and for us, certainly for the start of the competition,” said Farrell, speaking in Dublin.

“We’ll see how his rehab goes during it, you’d never know towards the back end if he could be a replacement or not.

“It’s devastating, isn’t it? That’s sport, that’s life, that’s rugby. Cian’s big enough and old enough and experienced enough to be through these type of things before.

“I remember in 2013 on the Lions (tour) he got injured early and had to fly home. He’s experienced something like this and understands that these things happen. He’s devastated as we are for him.

“The prognosis is something between five, six to 10 weeks. How that rehab carries on is something that we’ll keep a track of as we go.”

Healy’s absence was the headline news from Farrell’s selection, but was hardly a shock given he was still hobbling when boarding the plane to return to Dublin from Biarritz earlier on Sunday.

Captain Johnny Sexton says his Leinster team-mate will be missed.

“I only just found out literally five minutes ago,” said Sexton. “He has been through ups and downs in his career, he’s a very, very decorated player, a great player. We’re going to miss him.

“I’m gutted for him to miss this tournament. It has meant a lot to him in how he has prepared for it and how he has trained.”

Ulster pair Jacob Stockdale and Tom Stewart, Connacht back-rower Cian Prendergast, Leinster fly-half Ciaran Frawley and uncapped Munster hooker Diarmuid Barron also failed to make the cut.

But Dan Sheehan, Ronan Kelleher, Jack Conan, Dave Kilcoyne and Keith Earls have been picked, despite recent injury issues, with Farrell opting for a 18-15 split of forwards and backs.

Ireland begin their campaign on September 9 against Romania in Bordeaux and also face Tonga, world champions South Africa and Scotland in Pool B.

“It’s obviously difficult because you’re shattering somebody’s dream, but I would hope that through all campaigns you don’t let bad news become a shock,” Farrell said of cutting down his squad.

“We think we have an extremely gifted squad and I also feel the balance is right.

“We’re the lucky ones that get to chase the dream for the wider group and the nation itself.

“If we can’t get excited for that and the first game against Romania, we’re in the wrong job. I think we’re in a great place, ready to take this challenge head on.”

Veteran prop Cian Healy has been left out of Ireland’s 33-man squad for the Rugby World Cup in France due to injury.

The 35-year-old suffered a calf problem in Saturday evening’s 17-13 warm-up win over Samoa.

He was helped from the field by medical staff in the first half at Stade Jean Dauger in Bayonne before being pictured on crutches.

Munster loosehead Jeremy Loughman has taken Healy’s place.

Ulster pair Jacob Stockdale and Tom Stewart and Connacht’s Cian Prendergast have been left out by Andy Farrell.

Leinster fly-half Ciaran Frawley and Munster hooker Diarmuid Barron also failed to make the cut.

Dan Sheehan, Ronan Kelleher, Jack Conan, Dave Kilcoyne and Keith Earls have been picked, despite recent injury issues.

Fly-half Johnny Sexton, who has now completed a three-match ban, will captain his country ahead of retirement.

Ireland begin their campaign on September 9 against Romania in Bordeaux and also face Tonga, world champions South Africa and Scotland in Pool B.

Aside from the sidelined Healy, wing Stockdale is the highest profile player overlooked by head coach Farrell.

The 27-year-old, Ireland’s joint-sixth highest try-scorer with 19, has become a peripheral figure since the last World Cup amid a series of fitness setbacks.

He started against Samoa due to Earls’ late withdrawal with a niggle but was taken off with a hamstring issue.

Veteran Earls and first-choice wide men James Lowe and Mack Hansen have been preferred to Stockdale.

Farrell’s decision to go with an 18/15 split of forwards and backs sees Ulster centre Stuart McCloskey picked and back-rower Prendergast, who started last weekend’s 29-10 win over England, overlooked.

McCloskey has impressed when selected but his opportunities at 12 have been limited by the presence of Bundee Aki and Robbie Henshaw, in addition to some untimely injuries.

The group includes 16 players who travelled to the 2019 World Cup in Japan under predecessor Joe Schmidt.

Sexton, Conor Murray and Earls are each set for their fourth World Cups.

Regular starters Hugo Keenan, Caelan Doris, Sheehan, Jamison Gibson-Park, Hansen and Lowe are among the 17 players preparing for their first.

Versatile back Jimmy O’Brien, fly-half Jack Crowley and lock Joe McCarthy have each made the grade, having only made international debuts in the autumn.

Ireland squad:

Forwards: Ryan Baird (Leinster), Finlay Bealham (Connacht), Tadhg Beirne (Munster), Jack Conan (Leinster), Caelan Doris (Leinster), Tadhg Furlong (Leinster), Iain Henderson (Ulster), Rob Herring (Ulster), Ronan Kelleher (Leinster), Dave Kilcoyne (Munster), Jeremy Loughman (Munster), Joe McCarthy (Leinster), Peter O’Mahony (Munster), Tom O’Toole (Ulster), Andrew Porter, (Leinster), James Ryan (Leinster), Dan Sheehan (Leinster), Josh van der Flier (Leinster).

Backs: Bundee Aki (Connacht), Ross Byrne (Leinster), Craig Casey (Munster), Jack Crowley (Munster), Keith Earls (Munster), Jamison Gibson-Park (Leinster), Mack Hansen (Connacht), Robbie Henshaw (Leinster), Hugo Keenan (Leinster), James Lowe (Leinster), Stuart McCloskey (Ulster), Conor Murray (Munster), Jimmy O’Brien (Leinster), Garry Ringrose (Leinster), Johnny Sexton (Leinster, captain).

Andy Farrell is anxiously awaiting injury news on Cian Healy ahead of naming his World Cup squad after the veteran prop hobbled off during Ireland’s underwhelming 17-13 success over Samoa.

Loosehead Healy had to be helped from the field by medics in rain-soaked Bayonne, having suffered a calf issue which left him in obvious distress.

Head coach Farrell is poised to announce his final 33-man selection for the upcoming tournament in France on Sunday afternoon in Dublin.

Second-half tries from Conor Murray and Rob Herring saw Ireland scrape a record 13th straight win after Samoa threatened an upset at Stade Jean Dauge by battling back to lead following Jimmy O’Brien’s maiden Test score.

“Well, you saw what I saw – he pulled up sharpish, didn’t he, and then struggled to walk off,” Farrell said of Healy.

“It’s his calf so there’s something going on there but rather than guess we have to take a picture and see how it goes.”

Asked if he is hopeful Healy will be available to go to the World Cup, Farrell added: “I don’t know, I wouldn’t know.

“We’ll get him back to Dublin and get him scanned and we’ll know soon enough.”

Healy departed just 21 minutes into his 125th Test outing to add to Ireland’s front-row concerns.

Fellow loosehead Dave Kilcoyne and hookers Dan Sheehan and Ronan Kelleher are already undergoing treatment for ongoing injury issues, although the trio are expected to be available in the coming weeks.

Keith Earls pulled out ahead of the game due to a niggle, while his replacement Jacob Stockdale felt a hamstring problem.

Opening try-scorer O’Brien (clavicle) and centre Robbie Henshaw (shin and ankle) were also feeling the effects of a physical encounter in south-west France.

Farrell, who was generally upbeat on those issues, praised his players for not panicking as they avoided an upset to maintain momentum.

“Delighted to get the win,” he said. “It was a proper Test match, wasn’t it? I said during the week that it would be good if it rained to find out about ourselves.

“It was difficult conditions and things weren’t always going to go your way, especially against a good side like that. They’re going to shock a few teams.

“In the end, I was pleased with our mentality – as in no panic, finding a way.

“Test matches are tough to win in conditions like that and we managed to find a way again. I’m pleased really.”

Duncan Paia’aua’s fine breakaway try and eight points from the boot of Lima Sopoaga had Samoa in front until 17 minutes from time.

Cian Healy suffered an injury scare on the eve of Ireland’s World Cup squad announcement during an unconvincing 17-13 success over Samoa in rain-soaked Bayonne.

Veteran prop Healy was helped from the field in obvious discomfort less than 24 hours before Andy Farrell names his final 33-man selection for the upcoming tournament in France.

Despite Jimmy O’Brien’s early try, Ireland trailed at the break in their final warm-up fixture, before battling back to scrape a 13th straight win thanks to further scores from Conor Murray and Rob Herring.

Yet the result at a sold-out Stade Jean Dauger could come at significant cost after Healy, who departed just 21 minutes into his 126th Test outing, added to Ireland’s front-row concerns.

Farrell’s planning has already been complicated by ongoing injury issues for Healy’s fellow loosehead Dave Kilcoyne and hookers Dan Sheehan and Ronan Kelleher, although he expects the trio to be available in the coming weeks.

The head coach, whose side begin the World Cup on September 9 against Romania in Bordeaux, was also forced into a change ahead of kick-off as a “niggle” for wing Keith Earls afforded a chance to Jacob Stockdale.

Heavy rain and forecasts of thunderstorms in south-west France did not deter a capacity crowd from turning out, with the slippery conditions contributing to a series of fumbles.

A fine Murray tackle denied Samoa an early lead before Jack Crowley’s pinpoint cross-field kick allowed Mack Hansen to gallop down the right wing and give full-back O’Brien a simple finish for his maiden Test try.

Ireland have unsettling memories of this stadium, having endured a bruising affair – dubbed the Battle of Bayonne – against the host club ahead of the 2007 World Cup.

Physicality was at the forefront of this encounter and Farrell’s men suffered a setback when the hobbling Healy was assisted off the pitch by medical staff and replaced by Jeremy Loughman.

Unfamiliar in white shirts and blue shirts, Ireland’s mix-and-match line-up were struggling to find their rhythm.

They ended the half 10-7 behind after Duncan Paia’aua intercepted a Stuart McCloskey pass inside his own half to brilliantly race clear and dive over, before Lima Sopoaga added the conversion and a subsequent penalty.

Samoa, who will be England’s final pool-stage opponents in early October, were facing a tier one nation for only the second time since losing 47-5 to Ireland at the 2019 World Cup.

A second penalty from former Wasps fly-half Sopoaga stretched their lead early in the second period before Stockdale’s kick over the top was gleefully dotted down by the diving Murray, albeit Crowley’s wayward conversion left Ireland a point behind.

The world’s top-ranked side finally regained the lead 17 minutes from time when replacement hooker Herring bulldozed over from a line-out maul.

Crowley’s conversion attempt was charged down before James Ryan was held up on the line to keep the contest firmly in the balance.

Roared on by the mostly-French crowd, Samoa refused to roll over and continued to cause problems.

Yet, on a day when Fiji stunned England at Twickenham, they ultimately fell short of producing a further major shock as Ireland survived a significant wake-up call which could yet prove expensive due to Healy’s premature exit.

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.

Captain Iain Henderson has urged Ireland’s World Cup hopefuls to set aside any lingering anxiety about selection and play their way into Andy Farrell’s final squad.

Head coach Farrell will reveal his 33-man group for the tournament on Sunday afternoon in Dublin, having decided to bring forward the announcement by 24 hours.

Players have one final chance to secure a return ticket to France during Saturday evening’s warm-up clash with Samoa in Bayonne, with six set to suffer disappointment.

Ulster lock Henderson, who is preparing for his third World Cup, admits tension has increased in camp ahead of the looming cut.

“Close to half the squad haven’t been in this position before,” said the 31-year-old.

“What the players are focusing on is how they’re going to put their best foot forward for Faz (Farrell) to get a good glimpse of them.

“He knows each one of us pretty intimately at this stage and I feel that the final step that the players can take is to actually go out and show it again in the Test match this weekend.

“I think there is a type of anxiety there but the players are well used to being put in sticky situations, selections for cup finals, selections for tours, selections for Six Nations games.

“Obviously this one carries a slightly different weight but we’re a really tight-knit group, the guys who are feeling probably the worst about it are probably the best supported.”

Farrell has regularly insisted all 33 places in his squad remain up for grabs.

Yet, in reality, only a few spots appear undecided, leaving a handful of peripheral players battling it out.

It is unclear whether the Englishman 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 against Samoa at Stade Jean Dauger, and Jacob Stockdale and Ciaran Frawley, who will not be involved, are competing for one spot.

Hookers Dan Sheehan and Ronan Kelleher, number eight Jack Conan and prop Dave Kilcoyne each have injury problems, albeit Farrell has been upbeat on those issues.

“Everyone’s looking after each other and ensuring whoever is left out will feel as little left out as possible,” said Henderson.

“I feel that the guys really do look out for each other and there’s a genuine care for how each other is feeling.”

Ireland’s World Cup campaign starts against Romania on September 9 in Bordeaux.

Their weekend clash with Samoa is the first meeting between the sides since the Irish won 47-5 at the 2019 tournament in Japan.

“This is their pre-World Cup campaign, similar to ours, coming to a crescendo,” said Henderson.

“It’s an exciting time for them, looking to have a shot at us. We’re looking to play the game we like to play.

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

Keith Earls has a “burning desire” to travel to the fourth World Cup of his career after celebrating his 100th Ireland cap with a stunning try on an emotional outing against England.

Munster wing Earls led out his country alongside his three daughters on Saturday evening in Dublin before marking the occasion in style by coming off the bench to seal a 29-10 victory with a superb diving finish.

The 35-year-old received a host of touching tributes ahead of the landmark appearance at the Aviva Stadium, while his family were invited into camp on Thursday.

Earls went a year without international action due to injury issues before lining up against Italy at the start of the month but insists he did not return solely on sentimental grounds as he eyes a place on the plane to France.

“That’s the reason I’m here, that’s the reason I came back for pre-season, that’s the reason I’m doing everything possible to stay fit,” he said of World Cup selection.

“I have that burning desire to give myself the best chance of going to the World Cup and I tell you one thing I’d hate to be the coaches trying to pick their 33-man squad. It’s going to be tough.”

Andy Farrell is due to reduce his squad by five to a final 33 following next weekend’s clash with Samoa in Bayonne.

His Six Nations champions registered a 12th consecutive win by comfortably dispatching Steve Borthwick’s side.

The unassuming Earls, who added to scores from Bundee Aki, Garry Ringrose, James Lowe and Mack Hansen with his 36th Ireland try, felt a little uncomfortable in the spotlight and feared being left embarrassed as an unused replacement following the big build up.

“I was saying to the lads, it was probably the worst week of my life with all the attention around the 100th cap,” he said.

“It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done on Thursday trying to keep the tears out of my eyes around all of the lads.

“But I think I managed to do it, so that was grand.

“I’m delighted everything worked out perfectly and there’s not a better bunch of lads to do it with.

“It was hell sitting on the bench. It was nerve-wracking, thinking: ‘will he put me on? This will be very embarrassing after everything I’ve gone through’.”

In addition to receiving video messages from the likes of Ireland great Brian O’Driscoll and former coaches Declan Kidney and Joe Schmidt, Earls was presented with his milestone cap by head coach Farrell, while captain Johnny Sexton and forwards coach Paul O’Connell gave speeches.

A more offbeat homage came from team-mate Hansen, who shaved the initials KE and the number 100 into an eye-catching green haircut before claiming the man of the match award against England.

“He actually came in with just his hair dyed green and then he got this idea he wanted to cut a shamrock into the side of his head,” said Earls.

“That kind of went a bit pear-shaped and then he was like, ‘let’s get KE 100 into my head’.

“I was sitting in the team room and I was like, I want no part in this and walked away and then Craig (Casey) sent me a picture and what a horrendous job they had done on it.

“That man (Hansen), he’s such a unique character in rugby.

“When you can act like that and cut your hair like that and then go out and perform like that, you just have to leave him be.”

England head coach Steve Borthwick hopes for swift disciplinary resolutions after Billy Vunipola joined Owen Farrell as a World Cup doubt following his dismissal in a damaging 29-10 defeat to Ireland.

Captain Farrell watched from the stands in Dublin as England slipped to a meek loss compounded by the second-half red card of Saracens team-mate Vunipola for ploughing into the head of Andrew Porter.

Influential fly-half Farrell was free to feature in the warm-up game but was ultimately left out following World Rugby’s appeal against the decision to overturn the red card he received in last weekend’s win over Wales.

With England’s World Cup opener against Argentina on September 9 fast approaching, Borthwick faces potentially being without two of his key men through suspension for the start of the tournament in France.

He was tight-lipped on Vunipola’s tackle, but is eager for matters to be concluded quickly on the back of the disruption already caused by the ongoing Farrell saga.

“I’m not going to comment upon the incident specifically because it goes into a disciplinary process this coming week,” said Borthwick.

“Probably as every England fan, I feel disappointment in the game today and I said beforehand we want 15 players on the pitch for 80 minutes of every game.

“You’re playing the number one ranked side in the world in their stadium and to go to 14 men it becomes a very difficult task at that point in time

“Hopefully we will find a conclusion on both matters this week and it won’t go into another week. Once I have all the facts, I will deal with them.

“We talked about the way this Test week was disrupted (by the Farrell situation) and I need to adapt throughout the week. It’s another challenge that’s been thrown at us.”

England offered little at the Aviva Stadium, even before falling a man down when Vunipola’s 53rd-minute sin-binning was upgraded to a red on review.

Tries from centres Bundee Aki and Garry Ringrose gave Ireland control at the break, before scores from James Lowe, Mack Hansen and Keith Earls sealed a comprehensive victory.

Replacement prop Kyle Sinckler crossed for England, but it was scant consolation on a difficult evening when stuttering World Cup preparations were thrown into further disarray.

“Whilst I’m incredibly disappointed with the result, the players kept fighting,” said Borthwick.

“I thought the players that came off the bench added on the pitch.

“Just before half-time at 7-3, we missed some opportunities and turned over ball in the final third, so we weren’t able to put enough pressure on them.

“When it was 15 against 15 it was a tight battle, unfortunately it didn’t stay 15 on 15.”

Ireland retained their place at the top of the world rankings courtesy of a 12th successive win.

Earls stepped off the bench to mark his 100th cap in style with his 36th international try as the hosts overcame a disjointed opening period.

Head coach Andy Farrell said: “It had a bit of everything: good, bad and ugly.

“I wasn’t too happy at half-time. We had them in a place where we could push a little bit harder and make it a little bit easier for ourselves but we didn’t kick on.

“I was really pleased that we found or rhythm back into the game. I thought we scored some great tries.

“Obviously the story of the day is it’s very fitting that Keith gets his 100th cap and we made sure he does that with a W and also him scoring a try in Keith Earls style in the corner just made the day for everyone really.”

Hooker Dan Sheehan limped off shortly before half-time, with Farrell waiting to discover the extent of that issue.

“Dan’s lost a bit of power in his foot,” he said. “We won’t know until we get it scanned. We’ll probably know more in the morning.”

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