Words: Eoin Harte
A fit and healthy Sean O’Brien would have to start for Ireland crucial matches, according to former Ireland international Alan Quinlan.
Speaking on Monday’s OTB AM, Quinlan had Sean O’Brien as his preferred option in the openside flanker position, saying: "He’s just a different level with his aggression, his experience and what he’s achieved."
However, the Tullow Tank’s recent troubles with injury have seen players like Josh van der Flier and Dan Leavy come into contention to start for Ireland in the number 7 shirt.
"Van der Flier’s the one in control at the moment, he was incredible against New Zealand, his form for Leinster is sensational at the moment and he’s a starter."
As of now, the two Munster men, Peter O’Mahony and CJ Stander, are the most assured of their place in the back row, with the two owning the 6 and 8 shirt respectively in recent times.
Peter O’Mahony was named vice-captain in the last Ireland squad, alongside Johnny Sexton, so it is unlikely he will lose his place in starting fifteen. In the event of an injury to O’Mahony, there’s no shortage of quality players that could replace him.
Van der Flier’s the one in control at the moment, he was incredible against New Zealand...
Rhys Ruddock would be a strong contender to replace the Munster captain, having captained Ireland himself from the number 6 shirt in smaller games against the likes of the USA and Japan.
Jordi Murphy is another in the running and replaced O’Mahony with around 20 minutes to go in their win over New Zealand.
Quinlan struggled to pick his top back rowers, saying that Ireland’s strength in depth in the position is probably the strongest in the world.
"You’re asking to go talking about back rowers and there’s so many bloody options isn’t there."
Joe Schmidt could look to rotate players in the back row for the upcoming Six Nations to give less experienced players the chance to play in crucial games to prepare them for starting in the World Cup in the event of an injury.
A lack of depth was a serious issue for Ireland in the 2015 tournament and is surely a problem that Schmidt would much rather avoid this time around.
You can catch up on our previous rankings here.