With Brian O’Driscoll hanging up his boots this season and Gordon D’Arcy on the wrong side of thirty, there is a near certainty that one of the most iconic centre partnerships in world rugby has come to an end. With 53 internationals played next to each other, there will certainly be a lot of experience leaving the Irish backline.
The most important question is what will happen to D’Arcy. With the 2015 world cup right around the corner, time is in short supply. Will Joe Schmidt keep D’Arcy in the side as a mentor for the player who will fill O’Driscoll’s sizable boots, or will he gamble and introduce an entirely new midfield?
Below we will have a look at the players who seem set to make the Irish 12 and 13 jersey their own.
An inside centre in the mould of Billy Twelvetrees, Luke Marshall started his career wearing the number 10 jersey. The heir apparent to Gordon D’Arcy, he has amassed 5 caps for Ireland, playing next to O’Driscoll on each of these occasions. Only 23 years old, he’s got time on his side if he can stay injury-free.
Usually a wing, McFadden replaced O’Driscoll when he was injured. The Leinster back has been in or around the Ireland squad for the last few years, winning 26 caps as a wing, centre or utility back on the bench. More of a straight running centre, he looks to be the perfect foil for Marshall’s distributing skills.
The Ulster centre is a player who seems to be a regular in the Ireland squad but rarely makes the match day team. He has played 4 internationals so far, with the last one against the USA in 2013. He will be looking to play himself into Schmidt’s plans as a long term outside centre. Fergus McFadden is arguably ahead of him in the pecking order.
Something of a left-field choice, Tommy Bowe does not need an introduction. Claiming 59 caps, with 5 of these for the British and Irish Lions, Bowe has a wealth of experience as a wing, and he has been selected as outside centre occasionally as well. As he’s already 30, he could be partnered with either Luke Marshall or Gordon D’Arcy if Schmidt decides to be conservative.
The youngest player of this list, Robbie Henshaw has a bright future ahead of him. The Connacht centre has earned plaudits from all corners of Ireland, not in the least by Brian O’Driscoll himself. Only 20 years old, he has already earned 3 caps for Ireland and seems set to earn a lot more. The 2015 world cup may be a bit too early, but his involvement with the Irish squad is a near certainty.
The Ulster centre-cum-fullback has been playing very well for the Northern Irish team, and will qualify for Ireland in the autumn of 2014. Unless the eventual outside centre plays two blinders in the summer tour, we’d expect that the 28-year-old kiwi will feature heavily in Schmidt’s plans, as he brings flair and a running game that could be very difficult to contain, especially when partnered with team-mate Luke Marshall.
It’s obvious that the Irish have a lot of riches in the midfield, and striking the right balance will be key for Schmidt and co to ensure that they do not lose too much quality with the retirement of Brian O’Driscoll and age catching up with Gordon D’Arcy.
Who would you pick in the Irish midfield?