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Rugby World Cup 2023: Who are Ireland's star-studded backs?

Garry Ringrose, Johnny Sexton and Hugo Keenan are three important backs for Ireland
Garry Ringrose, Johnny Sexton and Hugo Keenan are three important backs for Ireland

2023 Rugby World Cup

Hosts: France Dates: 8 September to 28 October

Coverage: Full commentary of every game across BBC Radio 5 Live and Radio 5 Live Sports Extra, plus text updates on the BBC Sport website and app.

The Rugby World Cup is finally upon us and Ireland go into the tournament as one of the favourites to win the Webb Ellis Cup for a first time.

It won't be easy, with South Africa and Scotland also in Pool B, and either New Zealand or France expected to be quarter-final opponents if the Irish make it that far.

However, Andy Farrell's side have beaten all of those sides in the last couple of years - with an exciting backline crucial to their success.

We'll bring you details of the forwards tomorrow, but here are the 15 Irish backs dreaming of lifting silverware in France.

Scrum-halves

Jamison Gibson-Park
Jamison Gibson-Park

Jamison Gibson-Park has established himself as the de-facto starting scrum-half under Farrell. A former Maori All Black, he made the move to Leinster in 2017 and made his Ireland debut three years later. Has played a key role in Ireland's recent success under Farrell, especially impressing against his native New Zealand as Ireland soared to the best-ranked side in the world.

Conor Murray stats
Conor Murray stats

If Farrell needs an experienced head to see out a game, then there is no better scrum-half than Conor Murray. Not the player he once was but still as crucial to the squad as ever. With 105 points across his 107 caps, Murray has a habit of popping up with some big scores - most recently his game-changing try against Samoa. Seems to play his best rugby in a green jersey and very rarely lets Ireland down.

Craig Casey stats
Craig Casey stats

Joe Schmidt opted to take two scrum-halves in 2019, but Farrell has selected Craig Casey as a third number nine. With both Murray and Gibson-Park in their 30s, the youngster is next in line to take over and having a World Cup under his belt can only aid Ireland going forward. Could be in line for some minutes against Romania and Tonga, and can do a solid job when called upon.

Fly-halves

Johnny Sexton stats
Johnny Sexton stats

When you think of Irish rugby, you think of Johnny Sexton. One of the first names on the team sheet, but heads into the World Cup without a game since the Six Nations after a groin injury and his suspension for misconduct after the Heineken Champions Cup final. That will surely add further fuel to his fire, which is already pretty hot most of the time. It will be his farewell to rugby and he will be aiming to go out on a high. A true Irish sporting legend.

Ross Byrne stats
Ross Byrne stats

Ross Byrne has had the unenviable task of deputising for Sexton at both club and country, but is a reliable understudy who rarely lets the side down. An out-and-out fly-half, Byrne is composed from the kicking tee and possesses a safe pair of hands. Will be vying with Jack Crowley for the back-up spot to the returning Sexton.

Jack Crowley stats
Jack Crowley stats

With Sexton set to hang up his boots, up-and-coming Jack Crowley has been tipped as the heir to his throne. Given Crowley's ability to slot in at centre and even full-back if required, it will be interesting to see if he gets the nod over Byrne as the number two behind Sexton. His injury-time winning drop goal against Leinster in the URC semi-finals shows he has some serious bottle too. Not just one for the future, but one for the present.

Centres

Garry Ringrose stats
Garry Ringrose stats

Garry Ringrose is Ireland's reliable man in the middle and has helped fill the void left by the legendary Brian O'Driscoll. With 14 tries in 52 appearances, Ringrose has made of habit of popping up with some big scores - including against France in the Six Nations and in the historic series win over the All Blacks last year in New Zealand. A key player who Ireland need to keep fit.

Robbie Henshaw stats
Robbie Henshaw stats

If anyone deserves some luck with injuries, then surely it's Robbie Henshaw. An extremely talented centre, Henshaw's work-rate is second to none and his ability to play at both 12 and 13 with ease only aids his cause. On top of his sporting talent, he's a talented musician and can play the piano, guitar, fiddle and accordion. He can always entertain the squad in some well-earned down time.

Bundee Aki stats
Bundee Aki stats

Bundee Aki has been on the fringes of Ireland's team in recent times, largely due to the form of the other centres and a chequered disciplinary record that has put him on the sidelines. His last World Cup outing was against Samoa in 2019, when he was infamously the first man to be sent off for Ireland in a World Cup. Still a solid pair of hands but faces stiff competition for a starting berth.

Stuart McCloskey stats
Stuart McCloskey stats

The 'Bangor Bulldozer', Stuart McCloskey has worked his way into Farrell's plans after a few years in the international wilderness. It's actually unfair to label the Ulster centre as just pure brawn, as he possesses a superb sleight of hand and his offloading ability often keeps attacks alive. He's had to wait for his chance, but was superb in Ireland's Six Nations campaign earlier in the year.

Outside backs

Keith Earls stats
Keith Earls stats

The latest Irish centurion, Keith Earls has made the World Cup squad against the odds after thinking at one stage his time in green had come to an end. Is set to play in his third World Cup and, while not a guaranteed starter, his versatility is key and can slot in at centre if called upon. Will provide plenty of experience in a back three who are yet to make their bows on the World Cup stage.

James Lowe stats
James Lowe stats

There has been a lot of hype around James Lowe ever since he made the switch to Leinster in 2017 with one eye on making the Ireland team. He didn't tremble at the hype, he revelled in it. Electric with ball in hand, Lowe loves a try and has touched down 10 times in 21 caps - including three in Ireland's Grand Slam triumph in the Six Nations. His big left boot comes in handy as well at the other end.

Mack Hansen stats
Mack Hansen stats

As exciting on the pitch as he is a livewire off it, Mack Hansen has made a big impression since making the breakthrough with Connacht in 2021, and then with Ireland the following year. He's a real character, as his recent tribute haircut to Keith Earls highlighted, but his strike rate of seven tries in 16 caps shows that he is clinical in the red zone - where it really matters.

Hugo Keenan stats
Hugo Keenan stats

Hugo Keenan has been electric since pulling on the senior Irish jersey and is one of the best full-backs anywhere in the world. Like an enthusiastic puppy, albeit one who is very good at rugby. When Ireland play well, Keenan is usually at the centre of it. A model of consistency under Farrell, he's a joy to watch and could be one of the players of the tournaments.

Jimy O'Brien
Jimy O'Brien

As rugby's equivalent to a Swiss army knife, Jimmy O'Brien is a man that every squad needs. He's most natural on the wing or at full-back, but can slot in at centre and it wouldn't surprise us if he was seen packing down with the forwards. A serial winner with Leinster, he's brought that mentality into the early stages of his Ireland career.