Ireland and England step up preparations for the World Cup when they clash in a warm-up fixture in Dublin.

The rivals are at very different stages of their development.

Here the PA news agency examines five talking points ahead of their 141st meeting on Saturday.

Absent Farrell takes centre stage

Both teams are at close to full strength yet for all the stars on parade at the Aviva Stadium, the spotlight shines on a notable absentee. Owen Farrell was due to lead England in their penultimate fixture before facing Argentina in a pivotal Pool D fixture but instead Steve Borthwick’s captain and talisman is preparing for his second appearance before rugby’s judiciary in a week. The outcry at the decision to rescind his red card against Wales has seen World Rugby lodge an appeal, extending the controversy into a second week and disrupting England’s preparations both for Ireland and the World Cup.

England under siege

Borthwick knew he was leaping into the deep end when he took over a side that had lost its way under Eddie Jones, but even the resilient and thick skinned Cumbrian must be reeling from the controversy that has erupted around Farrell, who he claims is the victim of “personal attacks” on his character. On the field England have yet to provide any meaningful evidence of progress under Borthwick, who is fighting multiple fires including a disciplinary implosion against Wales with the World Cup starting in three weeks’ time.

Ford’s chance to shine

Into the fly-half breach steps George Ford, who makes his first Test start since 2021. The Sale ringmaster was outstanding as a replacement against Wales last Saturday and with Farrell likely to miss the start of the World Cup if the appeal succeeds, he has the opportunity to step out of his captain’s shadow and direct an attack that has yet to take shape under Borthwick. Assisting England’s smartest player is a well balanced centre partnership of Manu Tuilagi and Joe Marchant in what could be the first choice backline.

On the comeback trail

Ollie Chessum will make his long-awaited return from the serious ankle injury sustained during the Six Nations when he steps off the bench in Dublin. The 22-year-old Leicester second row was England’s breakout star of the Championship, bringing athleticism and energy to the engine room. With the World Cup fast approaching his return is well timed for England, although Tom Curry’s ongoing absence with his own ankle issue remains a concern.

Andy Farrell’s top dogs

Ireland will concede their place at the top of the world rankings to New Zealand if they lose to England and could fall as low as fourth should other results go against them, but the prospect of that happening is remote. Andy Farrell’s Six Nations champions have won the last three Tests against their rivals and are poised to make an impact at the World Cup, even if they are positioned on the savage side of the draw. Connacht back row Cian Prendergast is the latest talent to roll off the green production line with Farrell describing the full debutant as a “warrior”, while Keith Earls is poised to win his 100th cap off the bench.

Steve Borthwick believes Owen Farrell has been the target of “personal attacks” as England’s captain once again confronts the possibility of missing the start of the World Cup.

Borthwick has joined Andy Farrell in defending the 31-year-old, who must face rugby’s judiciary for the second time in a week after World Rugby appealed against the decision to rescind his red card for a dangerous tackle on Wales’ Taine Basham.

Andy Farrell, the head coach of Saturday’s opponents Ireland, offered impassioned support of his son by declaring that “the circus that’s gone on in and around all of this is absolutely disgusting”.

Borthwick had intended to select Farrell for the Dublin clash but revised that plan amid the furious outcry over the original disciplinary hearing’s failure to impose a suspension.

Instead, George Ford lines-up as chief playmaker against the sport’s number-one ranked side with Marcus Smith providing cover off the bench.

Farrell has travelled to Ireland with the squad but will be a spectator only as Borthwick anticipates the additional turmoil that will now affect England’s World Cup preparations when the saga enters a second week.

“Unfortunately, given the disruption to his week and the intrusion in terms of his preparation, I made the decision to pull him out of the team that he would otherwise have led this weekend,” Borthwick said.

“The situation is one I find really disappointing. We thought we had reached a conclusion in this matter on Tuesday.

“It had an impact in terms of the disruption for this week and now it’s going to be ongoing into the next Test week.

“The situation with the England team – and Owen in particular – seems to be amplified.

“The commentary around it seems to move from issues around the tackle to personal attacks on the character of the man, which I think is just wrong.

“We all feel for him and we all feel it when one of our group is on the receiving end of such personal attacks – we all feel it.

“Owen has handled himself through this process in a really respectful manner. We will continue to respect the process and the decision that is reached.

“One of the most experienced and senior panels that deal with these matters dealt with it on Tuesday. We thought it was the conclusion.

“Now, another panel is being convened to try and find some holes in what was done on Tuesday. Again, we will conduct ourselves in a manner that respects the process.

“The final two weeks of our World Cup preparation are going to be disrupted by this matter.”

Farrell is in fresh danger of missing the pivotal World Cup opener against Argentina on September 9 with the potential for a six-week ban – the mid-range sanction for dangerous tackle offences – back on the horizon.

The Saracens fly-half received a yellow card in the 63rd minute of Saturday’s 19-17 victory over Wales but this was upgraded to red by the bunker review system, which is being trialled in the Summer Nations Series.

At Tuesday’s hearing the Saracens fly-half accepted that he had made contact with Basham’s head, that it was a dangerous tackle and that the degree of danger involved warranted a red card.

However, he successfully argued there was mitigation that made the offence worthy of a sin-binning only when Jamie’s George’s attempted tackle on Basham caused the Wales flanker into a sudden change in movement and drop in head height.

The PA news agency understands that World Rugby will look to prove that on the balance of probabilities the tackle was never legal and therefore no mitigation should have applied.

It is stated in World Rugby’s guidelines state mitigation does not apply for “always-illegal acts of foul play”.

Farrell’s absence means that Courtney Lawes leads a starting XV that is close to full strength, bolstered by the presence of wing Anthony Watson and centre Manu Tuilagi, who are making their first appearances of the warm-up fixtures.

Second row Ollie Chessum will make his comeback from the serious ankle injury sustained during the Six Nations when he appears off the bench.

Ireland head coach Andy Farrell has branded the “circus” around son Owen Farrell’s disciplinary process “absolutely disgusting”.

The England captain’s participation in the World Cup is in fresh doubt after World Rugby appealed against the decision to overturn his red card from Saturday’s clash with Wales.

An independent disciplinary panel caused an outcry on Tuesday when it cleared 31-year-old Farrell to play following his shoulder-led tackle to the head of Taine Basham, which was expected to result in a significant ban.

England head coach Steve Borthwick has subsequently opted to leave the Saracens fly-half out of his squad for Saturday’s World Cup warm-up clash against Ireland in Dublin.

Farrell senior, who concedes his view on the situation is not impartial,  expressed anger at some of the intense criticism his son has faced.

“Whatever I say is probably flawed anyway,” said the 48-year-old.

“When you’re talking about somebody’s son and asking the question, it’s always going to be flawed, so what does that really matter?

“I don’t normally say too much because of that type of reason about my son.

“But what I probably would say at this moment in time is that the circus that’s gone on in and around all of this is absolutely disgusting, in my opinion, disgusting.

“I suppose those people that have loved their time in the sun get a few more days to keep going at that.”

Ireland back-rower Cian Prendergast will make his first Test start in Saturday’s World Cup warm-up clash with England in Dublin.

The Connacht player, who has won two caps as a replacement, has been selected at number eight, with the influential Caelan Doris providing back-up from the bench.

Andy Farrell has recalled 11 of the team which clinched Six Nations Grand Slam glory against Steve Borthwick’s men in March.

Centre Garry Ringrose and lock Tadhg Beirne, who were both injured for that 29-16 win, and fly-half Ross Byrne join Prendergast in coming in to a strong starting XV.

Munster wing Keith Earls is poised to win his 100th cap from the bench.

Prendergast came on in the first half of Ireland’s 33-17 win over Italy on August 5 in place of the injured Jack Conan.

With Conan still sidelined by a foot issue, the 23-year-old is given a major opportunity to provide competition for key man Doris, who was named man of the match following two tries against the Azzurri.

Head coach Farrell has named a completely different team to the experimental side which began that match.

Huw Jones is adamant Scotland are not fazed by sharing a heavyweight World Cup group with the might of Ireland and South Africa.

The fact the draw was made in 2020 has led to a top-heavy pool B containing three of the five best teams in the world on current form.

With Ireland ranked number one, and world champions South Africa fourth on the list, the burgeoning Scots – despite being up to fifth themselves – will be up against it to reach the knockout phase.

However, three tightly-contested games against second-ranked France this year – including last Saturday’s agonising 30-27 defeat in Saint-Etienne – allied to strong periods against the likes of New Zealand and Ireland over the past year – have given the Scots genuine hope that they can finish in the top two in their section and progress to the latter stages.

“It is a tough pool, and if people see us as underdogs we don’t mind that,” said centre Jones. “We know how good we can be and a game like Saturday’s, against a side ranked second in the world, gives us a lot of confidence.

“We think we can beat anyone, it’s just about putting together a complete performance. We’re not fazed by the group, we’re really looking forward to it, but we know we need to be at our best to beat the top teams and get out of our pool.”

The Scots have lost 32-21 and 30-27 in their two away matches against the formidable French this year, while they defeated Les Bleus 25-21 at Murrayfield earlier this month.

All three matches against the highly-fancied World Cup hosts incorporated strong fightbacks from Gregor Townsend’s side and Jones feels if they can cut out the minor issues that are leaving them trailing in the first place, they are playing well enough to fancy their chances against any opposition.

“We weren’t really happy with our first-half performance at home to France but we were a lot better in the second half,” said Jones.

“Then in Saint-Etienne, against France’s strongest team, it was a more complete performance in terms of the full 80 minutes, although it’s still about those small margins for us.

“We feel like we’re there and thereabouts but there’s also stuff we can work on. I think Saturday will spur us on to improve even more.

“We always want to win but I think a narrow loss like that away to one of the top teams in the world is good for the confidence. We know we can go toe-to-toe with the best and we feel we can win those games.

“We take confidence from that but we also know there are areas we have to tighten up in and not make a couple of silly errors that can cost us close games.

“Going out to France twice this year and running them so close in those games gives us real confidence, especially as the World Cup is out there.”

As long as there are no slip-ups against Georgia in their final warm-up match at Murrayfield a week on Saturday, the Scots will head out to France at the start of September on the back of an encouraging summer campaign in which they have already defeated Italy and France in Edinburgh.

“We’re feeling good,” said Jones. “It’s been a tough pre-season.

“The fitness is there and the game fitness is coming along. We’ve got one more game against Georgia to really sharpen up and then we’re into the tournament.

“I think we’re in a really good place but we want to win that game against Georgia and put in a really good performance, which will give us confidence going into that first game against South Africa.”

Ireland insist Jack Conan’s latest foot injury is “nothing like” the issue which ruined his last Rugby World Cup and are optimistic he will be fit to feature in France.

Andy Farrell’s squad are in Portugal for a week-long training camp but back-rower Conan stayed in Dublin to rehabilitate the problem he sustained in the first half of Saturday’s 33-17 warm-up victory over Italy.

The 31-year-old was pictured with his right foot in a protective boot after departing the Aviva Stadium pitch, sparking concerns he will endure further World Cup heartache, having prematurely left the 2019 tournament in Japan due to a stress fracture.

Ireland boss Farrell will not discover the full extent of the problem until next week but defence coach Simon Easterby says early signs are “positive”.

Asked if Leinster player Conan is in danger of missing the World Cup, Easterby, speaking from the Algarve, said: “No, genuinely not.

“Jack has in the past had troubles with his foot.

“But it’s nothing like it was back in 2019. He was pretty bullish around the injury.

“From everything that we’re hearing – we haven’t had full feedback yet – it’s a positive injury as a opposed to a really negative one.

“He’s stayed behind just to rehab and we hope to get more information on his injury next week.

“We’re still waiting on assessment and we decided that it would probably be best for him to stay back in Dublin.”

British and Irish Lion Conan spoke last week of having unfinished business at the World Cup due to his disappointment four years ago.

He came off the bench in Ireland’s opening win over Scotland in Yokohama but was then injured in training ahead of the shock defeat by hosts Japan, a match he had been due to start.

Farrell will his cut his current 42-man squad down to a final 33 on August 28 following further warm-up matches against England (August 19) and Samoa (August 26).

Ireland begin their World Cup campaign on September 9 against Romania in Bordeaux.

Andy Farrell expects rookie fly-half Jack Crowley to take “massive confidence” from the experience of running the show for Ireland in their 33-17 World Cup warm-up win over Italy.

Johnny Sexton’s three-match ban opened the door for his understudies to stake claims during the lead up to the tournament, with Crowley the first to be given an opportunity.

The 23-year-old, who is also competing with Ross Byrne and Ciaran Frawley for a place on the plane to France, produced an assured performance against the Azzurri on the occasion of his second Test start to strengthen his case for further action.

Unlike his full Ireland debut, when he was elevated from the bench at the 11th hour for the autumn victory over Australia due to Sexton’s late withdrawal, Crowley was given a full week to prepare.

Head coach Farrell is planning a midweek debrief with the Munster man but was encouraged by his showing on Saturday evening in Dublin.

“He did well,” said the Englishman. “Certainly in the first half, he controlled the game very well.

“I didn’t think he overplayed too much. He looked composed enough.

“There are a few things we’ll chat about during the week that will help his performance but he will be glad to get that one done.

“Another experience where he’s started at 10 and this time he’s been able to run the week, so he’ll gain massive confidence from that.”

Crowley’s mature display at the Aviva Stadium included slotting three of four conversions as two Caelan Doris tries, plus scores from Dave Kilcoyne, Stuart McCloskey and Cian Healy, secured a victory which Farrell termed “a bit clunky”.

He filled in at full-back for the second period due to Jimmy O’Brien’s shoulder injury, with debutant Frawley taking over at 10 and adding the extras on Doris’ second effort.

Farrell, whose side have further fixtures against England and Samoa this month, was less convinced following that reshuffle.

“We’ll have a look at the performances of the two of them playing together,” he said of Crowley and Frawley.

“We try and get two ball players playing together, whether that came to fruition or not, I’m not too sure at this moment in time.

“We started the second half pretty poorly really and didn’t really get going for a while there so we’ll have to look at that.”

Leinster player Frawley was one of three international newcomers from the bench alongside Ulster hooker Tom Stewart and Munster wing Calvin Nash.

The 25-year-old has been involved in Ireland training camps since November 2021 but had to be patient for his Test bow, partly due to an untimely injury.

“I’m delighted I got it and hopefully there will be more to come,” said Frawley, who is bidding to make the cut when Farrell chops his current 42-man squad down to a final 33 on August 28.

“It’s very competitive in there, it’s hard to believe they’re going to drop nine players.

“At the moment, you’re just trying to put your best foot forward and get selected for the games that are coming around the corner, focus on what’s coming.

“You obviously have the big picture in the back of your mind but, if you get ahead of yourself, you might not perform on the day.”

Nash, 25, added: “Naturally after getting our first caps, we want to push on and try to get to the World Cup for sure and get a few more caps. That’s the aim.”

Andy Farrell played down the severity of injuries suffered by Jack Conan, Jimmy O’Brien and Craig Casey during Ireland’s “clunky” World Cup warm-up win over Italy.

Number eight Conan was pictured in a protective boot following his first-half withdrawal in Dublin, while full-back O’Brien and scrum-half Casey were taken off with shoulder and back issues respectively.

Caelan Doris shone for the Guinness Six Nations champions with two tries in a 33-17 victory in which Dave Kilcoyne, Stuart McCloskey and replacement Cian Healy were also on the scoresheet.

Speaking of the injury concerns, head coach Farrell said: “They seem not too bad.

“Jimmy’s shoulder has shut down a little bit, it’s something he’s had in the past. Jack lost power in his foot, he seems OK.

“Craig had a tight back which was making his hamstring cramp. They were taken off as precautions more than anything.”

An experimental Ireland side recovered from a sluggish start at a subdued Aviva Stadium to take control of the contest but did not fully convince, despite the comfortable scoreline.

“To get up and running with a victory is nice, but I think we all know really that it was a bit clunky, to say the least, at times,” said Farrell.

“There was some really good stuff as far as possession is concerned and opportunities to convert were there in spades.

“But we weren’t patient enough to be able to convert that, so I think that’s the morale of the story really.”

Back-rower Doris, selected in an unfamiliar role at openside flanker, was the standout performer, while Ciaran Frawley, Calvin Nash and Tom Stewart came off the bench to make Test debuts.

“I’m sick of him getting man of the match,” joked Farrell.

“He just keeps getting better and better. We all know he’s good at jackalling and good over the ball and I don’t know whether he took that through the roof because he had a number seven on his back.

“He epitomises what we’re trying to do as far as the player being in control of his own mind.

“It doesn’t really matter whether he makes a mistake or two, he just gets on with the next job the whole time.

“He’s playing extremely well but he’s certainly growing as far as his leadership role is concerned as well. He’s coming on leaps and bounds.”

Ireland move on to a training camp in Portugal before taking on England and Samoa later this month.

Italy head coach Kieran Crowley said: “In the first half, we were dominated all over the place.

“Ireland were too good for us in that first half. Second half, we came back but we’ve still got a lot of work to do in our breakdown work and just in general with our management.

“I saw an improvement in that second half – we won the second half, I think, but that’s not winning the game.”

Caelan Doris shone and Jack Conan suffered an injury scare as Ireland launched their World Cup warm-up fixtures by easing to a 33-17 win over Italy in Dublin.

Back-rower Conan departed the field shortly before half-time and was later pictured in a protective boot on the bench.

Full-back Jimmy O’Brien and scrum-half Craig Casey were also withdrawn for treatment to give head coach Andy Farrell cause for concern ahead of his side’s campaign in France, which kicks off in just five weeks’ time.

An experimental side missing a host of rested stars, in addition to suspended skipper Johnny Sexton, overcame a sloppy beginning to cruise to a 15th successive home victory.

Doris’ two tries, plus scores from Dave Kilcoyne, Stuart McCloskey and Cian Healy, earned victory, while Jack Crowley and debutant Ciaran Frawley kicked six and two points respectively.

Lorenzo Pani and Tommaso Menoncello claimed consolations for Italy but they never threatened to shock the Six Nations champions.

Ireland were back in action for the first time since clinching the Grand Slam against England in March.

Farrell retained only three of the players who began that day as part of an unfamiliar XV, while Italy included England-born debutants Paolo Odogwu and Dino Lamb in a strong selection.

The Aviva Stadium was far from full for the late kick-off and Ireland’s sluggish start, during which Tommaso Allan’s early penalty put the visitors ahead, initially did little to enhance the subdued atmosphere.

Italy lost Saracens prop Marco Riccioni to injury inside 10 minutes and that setback was quickly compounded by Kilcoyne burrowing over at the other end to register his first Test try since November 2014.

The score settled Ireland down to an extent and they capitalised on Italian indiscipline to stretch the scoreboard just before the half-hour mark.

Doris claimed the second try of the evening, crashing over wide on the right, moments after Azzurri loosehead Danilo Fischetti was sin-binned for failing to retreat.

Conan’s 35th-minute departure was an unwelcome sight for Farrell but the hosts’ performance continued to improve, with man-of-the-match Doris proving to be a real menace.

The Leinster man, selected in the unfamiliar position of openside flanker, produced a crushing tackle on Stephen Varney deep inside Italian territory to pave the way for McCloskey to power over.

Crowley landed his third conversion of the evening to make it 21-3 at the interval.

Farrell shuffled his pack slightly for the restart, introducing the uncapped Frawley at fly-half and pushing Crowley to full-back in place of the withdrawn O’Brien, who had received treatment on a shoulder issue.

A further change was required just four minutes later as scrum-half Casey followed Conan and O’Brien into the treatment room.

Italy, whose only Dublin success came in 1997, had struggled for territory in the opening period.

But, on the back of some cheap penalties conceded by Ireland, they reduced their deficit in the 51st minute when Pani was afforded yards of space on the right to charge forward and hold off the attempts of Jacob Stockdale.

Replacement prop Healy then celebrated moving level with Rory Best as Ireland’s third most-capped player on 124 appearances with his 12th international try.

Menoncello again reduced the arrears for Italy 12 minutes from time before the impressive Doris had the final say.

Following a week’s training camp in Portugal, Ireland move to matches against England and Samoa with plenty of positives but some fitness concerns.

Andy Farrell insists squad depth will be key to Ireland achieving their dream of World Cup glory after handing opportunities to a number of fringe players for Saturday’s warm-up clash with Italy.

Munster’s Jack Crowley has been selected at fly-half in the absence of the suspended Johnny Sexton, with uncapped trio Ciaran Frawley, Tom Stewart and Calvin Nash among the replacements.

Just three players – centre Robbie Henshaw and back-rowers Caelan Doris and Ryan Baird – have been retained from the XV which began Ireland’s Grand Slam-clinching win over England back in March.

Ulster lock Iain Henderson will captain the side, lining up in the second row alongside Joe McCarthy, who will make his first international start, while wing Jacob Stockdale will play at Test level for the first time in two years.

Head coach Farrell, who is due to cut his 42-man squad down to a final 33 following further fixtures against England and Samoa, wants a full complement of players fit and firing moving towards the tournament in France but dismissed the notion he is experimenting.

“We’re at a stage where we’re all gagging for a game,” he said.

“And you are judging constantly how preparation’s going and trying to balance that out with a side that’s got the experience and youth.

“I’m 100 per cent sure there are some individuals that will take the field saying to themselves that ‘this a big chance and big opportunity for me’.

“You’ve got to surround those people with good enough experienced players as well to be able to judge them properly, so we’re looking forward to that.

“I wouldn’t say we’re experimenting.

“You win World Cups because of the strength of your squad so we’re trying to find out about people that have done so well to get picked in the initial 42 and now they’ve got the opportunity to represent the group.

“They know the expectation of how we want to play and what’s acceptable and what’s not.”

Sexton’s three-match ban has opened the door for rookie number 10s Crowley, Frawley and Ross Byrne to gain some much-needed Test experience during the next month.

In-form Crowley is the first to be handed an opportunity to impress, having starred during his province’s United Rugby Championship success at the end of last season.

“He has been excellent but how that transfers into a performance is different,” Farrell said of Crowley.

“He has been going great. I have seen his confidence grow, obviously from what happened with Munster, being able to help navigate his team through those difficult periods and get some success.

“The minute that selection comes, it’s a different week as far as managing the team and being the main general as far as Jack is concerned.

“We have been keeping a close eye on that and he has been excellent so far.”

Farrell was speaking publicly for the first time since Sexton, who has not played since the Guinness Six Nations due to injury, was hit with a three-match ban for misconduct.

“He’s been all systems go, right from the start,” the Englishman said of his 38-year-old skipper’s performances in training.

“He’s not missed a session, he’s not dropped out of anything. If there was a game two or three weeks ago, he was able to play, no doubt.

“Obviously he’s disappointed not to be able to play in these games but he’s in great form.”

Tadhg Beirne admits the scars of the last World Cup took a long time to heal and insists Ireland will do everything possible to avoid making the same mistakes.

Andy Farrell’s side go into the tournament in France at the top of the world rankings and buoyed by clinching a Guinness Six Nations Grand Slam on the back of a historic tour success in New Zealand.

Ireland were buzzing with similar belief under Joe Schmidt in 2019 before suffering an emphatic quarter-final exit to the All Blacks following a shock pool-stage loss to hosts Japan.

Munster lock Beirne believes the tone for that forgettable campaign was set during an underwhelming build-up, which included a record drubbing by England, and is determined to help prevent a repeat outcome as he prepares for Saturday’s warm-up clash with Italy.

“It was really disappointing to be honest, we had such expectations of ourselves and we probably felt like we didn’t fire on all cylinders,” he said of the 2019 tournament.

“Overall, just disappointment from the get-go.

“Even when you talk about warm-ups we didn’t particularly play well in them, did we? And that fed into the World Cup in terms of our performances over there.

“I think afterwards it took a long, long time to get over it so I’m certainly hoping that’s not the case this year and we’ll be doing everything we can to change that.”

Ireland begin the World Cup on September 9 against Romania in Bordeaux.

After hosting Italy, preparations continue when England visit the Aviva Stadium a fortnight later before a fixture against Samoa in Bayonne the following weekend provides a final chance for fine-tuning.

Beirne says the three upcoming matches are far from friendlies and acknowledges that any player not up to scratch is at risk of being dropped when head coach Farrell cuts his squad from 42 to 33 at the end of the month.

“You can certainly lose your spot in a World Cup squad if you don’t play well,” said the British and Irish Lion, who was restricted to a peripheral role for his country in Japan in 2019.

“As a squad we have a record at home that we are proud of at the moment, we are playing a certain type of rugby that we want to continue doing.

“We are looking at it very much as we would a Six Nations game or a November international game.

“It’s a Test match we want to win and we are going out there to prove a point, 100 per cent.”

Paul O’Connell has no reservations about the possibility of Ross Byrne, Jack Crowley or Ciaran Frawley starting a World Cup match in place of influential Ireland captain Johnny Sexton.

Suspension has ruled fly-half Sexton out of his country’s warm-up matches against Italy, England and Samoa, leaving a trio of inexperienced understudies vying to stake their claim for the role.

Frawley remains uncapped at international level, while his Leinster team-mate Byrne and Munster man Crowley have just four Test starts between them.

Veteran Sexton will complete his three-match ban in time to feature in Ireland’s World Cup opener against Romania on September 9 but he is short of match fitness having not played since March due to injury.

Although forwards coach O’Connell acknowledges the stand-in options are Test rookies, he would back each of them to perform on the biggest stage if required.

“I’d be confident in all of them,” he said, ahead of Saturday’s Dublin clash with Italy.

“One of the strengths we have is that we’ve good clarity on how we’re trying to play the game and the players have to take ownership of that clarity quite a lot.

“You do figure out a guy that’s unsure very, very quickly. But all of our guys know how we want to play.

“They don’t have as much practice at it or as much experience as Johnny has of taking ownership of it but that’s why these few weeks will be great for them.

“We play differently to Munster and to Leinster and the guys that are there but there is a lot of similarities as well so it’s nothing massively new to them.

“They’ve all driven the ship for their provinces in big, big games and done really well. There’s a little bit of a tweak to how we do things and they’ve got to pick that up.”

Sexton’s last competitive action was four and a half months ago when he limped off with a groin issue during Ireland’s Grand Slam-clinching win over England.

The 38-year-old, who has 113 caps for his country, has been training fully with Andy Farrell’s 42-man preliminary squad this summer ahead of his last competition before retirement.

Ireland’s selection is due to be cut to a final 33 on August 28 and O’Connell has urged those who do miss out to not feel too disheartened.

“It’s not all or nothing,” said the 43-year-old, who represented Ireland at four World Cups between 2003 and 2015.

“You hope that by being in here, training with us, training with good players, that players are improving and they’re looking at their opportunity to get a chance, to try to get picked for the World Cup and, if they don’t, that they break in in the future.

“They all want to go to the World Cup for sure, but selection for the World Cup is not an all-or-nothing thing.

“I’m sure plenty of guys are going to be disappointed.

“They’ve their sights set on getting their chances and taking it but I think they’re all going to be better on the back of this pre-season.”

The Republic of Ireland’s behind-closed-doors match against Colombia ahead of the Women’s World Cup was abandoned after 20 minutes after becoming “overly physical”.

The PA news agency understands the decision was made following some rough challenges in Friday’s contest at Brisbane’s Meakin Park, and that Ireland midfielder Denise O’Sullivan was taken to hospital and is set to undergo a scan after sustaining a shin injury.

A statement from the Football Association of Ireland said: “The behind-closed-doors game between the Ireland women’s national team and Colombia on Friday evening was ended after 20 minutes of play.

“The game, which was held in Meakin Park, Brisbane, became overly physical and it was decided, following consultation with the match officials, to end the game.

“The Ireland team then underwent a full training session to continue preparations for their opening game in FIFA Women’s World Cup 2023, against Australia in Sydney on July 20.”

Vera Pauw’s Ireland team are also set to face Canada in Perth on July 26 and then Nigeria in Brisbane five days later, as the Girls in Green play at a major tournament finals for the first time in their history.

Kathryn Dane has vowed to appreciate every moment of her rugby career after fighting her way back from a stroke at the age of 26.

The Ireland and Ulster scrum-half suffered a brain haemorrhage in November last year while training at the Irish Rugby Football Union’s high performance centre in Abbotstown, where the prompt actions of medical staff and early treatment at Connolly and Beaumont Hospitals gave her the best possible chance of making a full recovery.

Eight months on, Dane, who also works a physiotherapist in Dublin, is back in light training and completing her PhD with a fresh perspective on rugby and life in general.

She said: “Before it, I used to just kind of go through life at 100mph and not really appreciate the good things or the achievements or the learnings that I’ve had.

“Since the stroke, I have just kind of realised that when you’re in those dark places, that’s when you start to see all the light that you have in your life.

“I have so many opportunities through sport and through my PhD that I never really appreciated before, and now I’m going to be properly grateful for what I have and enjoy rugby and enjoy all the moments that I have because I think I did take it a little bit for granted before.”

Dane became unwell when an arteriovenous malformation – a cluster of blood vessels – in her brain ruptured as she prepared for an early-morning gym session with her strength and conditioning coach Ed Slattery.

She said: “I was in at 7am doing some warm-up sets of hip thrusts with my coach Ed Slattery and just got this massive pain behind my right eye in the back of my head and I didn’t feel great.

“Ed noticed straight away that my face had dropped – I didn’t notice it had dropped, but I didn’t feel great and he quickly got the team doc, who was actually in the gym at the time, to have a look at me and they knew straight away I’d had a stroke of some description.”

Dane was rushed to Connolly Hospital, where an MRI scan confirmed the medical team’s worst fears, and later transferred to Beaumont Hospital to undergo procedure to seal the damaged blood vessel.

She spent two weeks in hospital before being allowed home to Fermanagh to start the process of working her way back to health under the watchful eye of an NHS brain injury team.

Dane said: “I was really, really lucky it happened where it happened because it could have happened on a rugby pitch in France or Italy somewhere. It was just by chance it happened there, and I do really believe that it was supposed to happen.

“I know it’s a s*** card to be dealt with, but it’s just a chapter in my story that I’ve had to overcome.”

Asked if her medical background, which had involved working with stroke patients, had proved a help or a hindrance, Dane said: “I’ve never lived in fear before, but when something like this happens to you out of the blue, you think, ‘Gosh, I’m vulnerable for the first time in my life’.

“It is beneficial to have that knowledge, but then at the same time ignorance is bliss sometimes.”

Initially having to battle fatigue and the left-sided weakness with which she had been left, has eased her way back to health and fitness, a process aided in part by a conversation with former Ireland back row Chris Henry, who returned to rugby after suffering a mini-stroke.

Asked about her own future in the game, she said: “I just want to make sure that I’m in the best place physically before I even begin to make that decision about returning to contact and returning to play.”

Johnny Sexton faces a disciplinary hearing on Thursday that could see the outcome impact Ireland’s World Cup preparations.

The Ireland captain had a misconduct complaint lodged against him following his behaviour towards match officials in the wake of Leinster’s Heineken Champions Cup final defeat by La Rochelle on May 20.

Sexton did not play in the game at Dublin’s Aviva Stadium due to his continued recovery from a groin injury.

But he went on to the pitch after the match – Leinster lost 27-26 – and became involved in what appeared to be a heated exchange with South African referee Jaco Peyper and other match officials.

Tournament organiser European Professional Club Rugby submitted misconduct complaints against 37-year-old Sexton and Leinster following what it described as a “thorough fact-finding and careful review” of Sexton’s actions, and also Leinster for not exercising reasonable control over their player.

Sexton, who intends to retire after the World Cup in France later this year, will appear by video conference call before an independent disciplinary panel chaired by Christopher Quinlan KC.

Ireland’s opening World Cup warm-up match is against Italy on August 5, followed by appointments later that month with England and Samoa.

Their first World Cup game sees them tackle Romania in Bordeaux on September 9, so a suspension for Sexton has potential to affect his availability.

Announcing the disciplinary, EPCR said: “Misconduct complaints against the Leinster Rugby player, Johnny Sexton, and against Leinster Rugby, arising from the Heineken Champions Cup final on Saturday May 20 2023, have been lodged by EPCR.

“After thorough fact-finding and careful review of Johnny Sexton’s behaviour towards match officials after the match, in accordance with EPCR regulations, the EPCR disciplinary officer has submitted misconduct complaints so that an independent disciplinary panel can determine whether any misconduct has been committed by Mr Sexton (through his behaviour) and Leinster (through failing to exercise reasonable control over Mr Sexton).”

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