There were a whole host of Irish players watching on enviously as Joe Schmidt's team secured the Grand Slam on top of the Six Nations title on Saturday.

Rhys Ruddock captained Ireland against Fiji last November and was in fine form until he was struck down with a hamstring injury on Champions Cup duty.

This time last year Andrew Conway celebrated his first cap against England. Following on from the summer tour, he was one of Ireland's best performers in the Autumn Series but couldn't force his way into the Six Nations reckoning. 

Jack Conan started at number 8 against Italy and also appeared off the bench against Wales, while Chris Farrell's only outing was a man of the match performance at home to Wales before he was struck down with injury.

Stuart McCloskey, Darren Sweetnam, Rob Herring and Ian Keatley are others who will hope to impress between now and next year's World Cup, but here are six players who will be looking to push hard for a place in Joe Schmidt's side for 2019.

Robbie Henshaw

A firm favourite of Joe Schmidt’s, it’s hard to see a fully fit Robbie Henshaw outside of the starting XV. Injured in the act of scoring against the Italians, he saw his replacement Chris Farrell take the man of the match award against Wales before Garry Ringrose showed his undoubted class against Scotland and England.

Henshaw’s return will pose a dilemma for Schmidt, who hasn’t had the selection headache of a fully fit Henshaw, Ringrose and Bundee Aki in camp together. It’s not a matter of picking the two most in-form - which would have been a challenge in itself considering their performances in the campaign - it is also the type of gameplan required.

Does Henshaw come back at 13? If he does, Aki could be more likely to partner his former Connacht team-mate with his defensive solidity rather than Ringrose, who is more of a natural outside centre.

Should Schmidt look to utilise Ringrose’s passing range and offensive mindset, he could leave the 23-year-old in situ and move Henshaw to 12, a position he has featured in regularly at Test level.

Seán O’Brien

The Tullow Tank played just once in the Six Nations two years ago and didn’t feature at all this year as he continues to battle back from a series of injuries.

The powerful backrower falls into the same category as Henshaw; when match fit he is likely to get back into the starting team.

A run of games is the big issue for O’Brien, and with van der Flier – prior to his injury – Leavy and Jordi Murphy excelling in his absence, openside flanker is an area where Ireland appear well stocked.

The two-time Lions tourist would boost expectations heading to Japan, but the 51-cap international is in for a big 18 months ahead.

Luke McGrath

The scrum-half can consider himself one of the unluckiest men in the Irish squad. Outstanding for Leinster this term, following on from last season’s form, McGrath got the nod ahead of Kieran Marmion for the tournament opener in Paris.

With the game in the balance however, he didn’t make it off the bench and Kieran Marmion got the nod for the four remaining games, getting on in three of those matches.

The snappy scrum-half will have to knuckle back down at provincial level, but should Leinster continue their mach to silverware, he will again put himself in the shop window ahead of the three-Test tour of Australia where he can expect further opportunities to impress.

At the moment it appears like a straight shoot-out between McGrath and Marmion for a spot in the World Cup squad and it could see-saw many times between now and September 2019.

Tadhg Beirne

The European Player of the Year nominee has gone from strength to strength since he was released by Leinster two years ago.

Last year he was a huge part of the exciting Scarlets side that claimed the Pro14 in swashbuckling style, and there has been no let-up in performance from the 26-year-old.

Equally comfortable at lock or at flanker, he revealed his Munster switch was borne out of international ambitions and is another who looks certain to make the trip Down Under in June and make his Test debut.

Beirne’s work at the breakdown is immense – he collected his 29th turnover of the season at the RDS shortly before the start of the Six Nations - and has looked right at home in the Champions Cup with the Scarlets hosting La Rochelle in the last eight after topping a pool that featured Toulon.

Josh van der Flier

Such has been the contribution of Dan Leavy in the Grand Slam push, it is easy to forget that he began the Six Nations behind Josh van der Flier in the pecking order for openside flanker.

A knee ligament injury put paid to his season after just 37 minutes against France, while his provincial team-mate would go on to enjoy an outstanding campaign.

Van der Flier offers something different to Leavy, Murphy and O’Brien in so far as he is an out-and-out seven, the traditional groundhog at the breakdown. Unlike the aforementioned trio, he doesn’t slot into other backrow positions and ball carrying is not his forte.

He is however a tackling machine – in January he set a pro14 record against Connacht with 34 tackles and not missing one – and highly disruptive at the breakdown. Van der Flier will be hoping his unique skill set will be accommodated by Schmidt upon his return from injury.

Simon Zebo

This would be a long shot in the extreme. Joe Schmidt has stated that Zebo’s international career hasn’t been ended, temporarily at least, but his exclusion in November and the victorious Six Nations campaign would suggest that with his club career lying in France from next season, his days at Test level appear to be numbered for the foreseeable future.

Schmidt pointedly stated that form, rather than his Munster departure, was the reason behind Zebo’s omission, but after integrating the Cork man into his plans in recent years, knows that the 28-year-old offers something different in the backline.

"The doors are more open than people think but we’ve got a responsibility to the provinces that we take really seriously, and to the rugby public, to try to keep the people here as best we can," Schmidt said in January when asked whether Zebo was being frozen out to due his Munster departure.

"It’s obviously a big call for him to sacrifice a World Cup potentially... but I’m sure he’s weighed all that up"

Should Ireland be struck down with injuries in the wing and/or full-back positions, like they were at 13 this term, the IRFU’s policy regarding overseas players is likely to rear its head again.

"It’s obviously a big call for him to sacrifice a World Cup potentially... but I’m sure he’s weighed all that up," Johnny Sexton said earlier this year.

Certainly good enough to at least make the squad, Zebo is most likely to watch the World Cup from afar, but there is still a chance, albeit a very feint chance, he could feature.