Time is running out on the club season, and with it, the chance to catch Andy Farrell's eye.

With a World Cup just 16 months away, the opportunities to grab the attention of the Irish coaching staff are disappearing. Given the nature of the World Cup cycles, next season will be more about fine-tuning rather than discovery.

Of the group that tours New Zealand this summer, there's a fair chance Farrell's entire World Cup squad could be contained within. In short, unless you're either injured or deliberately rested, if you aren't on the plane to Auckland this summer, you'll likely need to do something very, very special next season to break into the group.

It's believed that England, Wales and Scotland could rest some of their Lions contingent for their own summer tours this July, but with Ireland heading into the toughest tour of them all against the All Blacks, it's likely that Farrell will be using the series as a trial run for France 2023, and have his stars up front and centre.

And while it leaves less room for experimentation in the Test matches in Auckland, Dunedin and Wellington, the two proposed midweek games against the Maori All Blacks mean Ireland will be carrying a larger than usual squad, on what will be their first major tour since the 2019 World Cup in Japan.

The exact size of the travelling party is yet to be confirmed, but it's expected to involve in the region of 40-42 players, with the first Test slated for Eden Park in Auckland on Saturday, 2 July.

Ireland last toured New Zealand in 2012, losing their series 3-0

The November Tests and Six Nations have given a pretty clear picture of both the type of game, and the type of player Farrell wants in his squad, with a large chunk of this summer's squad being predictable based on those last couple of Test windows.

However, it does leave a space or two in each position that's very much up for grabs as we head into the final rounds of the season.

The opportunity for Connacht players to impress is down to just one game; their URC final round meeting with Zebre in May, while Munster and Ulster will have at least two more matches with the potential for two more if either side can reach a URC final.

Leinster's Heineken Champions Cup semi-final with Toulouse this Saturday could be the first of six games for Leo Cullen's side, if they were to reach the decider in both URC and Europe.


Front Row

If we're speculating on a squad of between 40 and 42 players, it's possible that 10 or 11 of those spaces would be filled by front rowers.

At hooker, there seems to be very little scope for a bolter, with Rónan Kelleher, Dan Sheehan and Rob Herring being the regular three, while Connacht's Dave Heffernan has consistently been the next cab off the rank.

Of the props, Tadhg Furlong, Andrew Porter, Cian Healy and Finlay Bealham look locked-in, leaving at least two and maybe three spots to fill around the fringes.

With Dave Kilcoyne set to miss the summer tour due to injury, there's a loosehead spot to be filled, and although Jeremy Loughman received a call-up at the tail end of the Six Nations, his Munster team-mate Josh Wycherley (below) has appeared to be the standout contender in the final third of this season, overtaking Loughman as the province's first choice for the Champions Cup quarter-final against Toulouse.

And although the 22-year-old has shown up and down form at the scrum, his ball-handling and abilities in the open field are well suited to the current Irish style of play.

On the tight side, Tom O'Toole has consistently been the extra man in Irish squads over the last couple of seasons, but it's notable that the 23-year-old has largely played back-up for Marty Moore in Ulster's big games this season. Given how vulnerable Ireland are in the event of a Furlong injury, an experienced pro like Moore has a lot to offer an Irish pack in a World Cup year, and would be doing so on merit, after one of the most consistent seasons of his career.

Second Row

Just like the front row, several locks are all but certain to be traveling if fit. James Ryan, Iain Henderson and Tadhg Beirne are guaranteed to be there, leaving around three more spots to be filled. While Ryan Baird isn't a locked-in selection, he's more probable than possible, and that leaves just two more places.

Based on Six Nations selections, Kieran Treadwell is leading the race, although he's not yet at the finish line. The Ulster lock ended his four-year absence from the Ireland team during the Six Nations, while Ross Molony has also been involved in recent squad without being capped.

But with an eye on development, Leinster's Joe McCarthy (above) and Munster's Thomas Ahern are both putting together late claims for a place in the squad. Given the numbers involved, it's unlikely both will travel, but it's very possible that one of them will.

Both have had a taste of the Irish camp in recent seasons, Ahern was drafted in as a development player for an Irish squad in late 2021, while the 6ft 9in Waterford man has provided a significant impact off the bench for Munster in recent weeks against Leinster, Exeter, Ulster and Toulouse.

McCarthy may be behind Ahern in terms of his exposure to senior rugby, but since his Leinster debut in January he's quickly made his mark, training with Ireland at the end of the Six Nations, before making his European debut against Leicester Tigers last weekend.

Back Row

For arguments sake, let's say seven back rows will travel this summer.

Four of those spots will be filled by Josh van der Flier, Caelan Doris, Jack Conan and Peter O'Mahony, with a deep queue to fill the remaining three spaces.

In recent camps, Nick Timoney and Gavin Coombes have been the reserve back rows, but the latter's ankle injury could week see him overtaken by some of his Munster teammates.

Cian Prendergast (below) and Conor Oliver have excelled this season, although they may just pay the price for how Connacht's season has petered out.

If Coombes or Timoney are to be looking over their shoulders, recent form would dictate that there are Munster players at the top of the queue. Against Exeter, Ulster and Toulouse, the Munster back row were on another level, and it would be hard to justify leaving Jack O'Donoghue on the fringes any longer.

Likewise, Alex Kendellen. The Corkman may have just turned 21, but he looks more than ready to test himself on the international stage.

Half-Backs

It's hard to see Farrell rolling the dice in this area of the pitch.

At scrum-half, Jamison Gibson-Park, Conor Murray and Craig Casey would appear to be nailed-on to keep their places in the squad, with all three showing good form since the end of the Six Nations.

It's unclear if Farrell will look to bring a fourth scrum half, but given the importance of Gibson-Park and Murray to his matchday squad, it's possible he could opt for a fourth number nine to cope with the busy schedule.

If so, Nathan Doak has looked assured in his first season of professional rugby, and looks to be the standout candidate ahead of Luke McGrath and Kieran Marmion who, despite playing excellent rugby, don't appear to be in the plans of Farrell for one reason or another.

At 10, Joey Carbery's form in the second half of this season has allayed some of the earlier fears about the Irish out-half succession plan behind Johnny Sexton.

Those two look certain to travel, leaving probably one more spot to be filled. It's a spot that's very much up for grabs; Jack Carty had it in the Six Nations, but like several Connacht candidates he has just one more game to grab the spotlight.

In November it was Harry Byrne who was given a run, but the Leinster man has struggled to stamp his authority on the province's team this season, an h as even been forced out to the centre on occasion. Older brother Ross Byrne could very well make his case for selection in the coming weeks, especially if he's handed the keys to the bus by Leo Cullen in the championship minutes of the URC and Europe.

Centre

One of the most settled areas of Farrell's squad, with Garry Ringrose, Bundee Aki and Robbie Henshaw all certain to be involved, while it would be a major surprise for James Hume not to travel.

It's possible Farrell will stick with those four centres, but if he does bring a fifth there are plenty of candidates. Stuart McCloskey has been on the fringes of an Irish place this season, while Chris Farrell is the latest Munster player who looks right back in contention for an international place, with their recent attacking gameplan showing a lot more variety in his game.

Ciarán Frawley of Leinster is a much different player, but his recent performances in South Africa, particularly when he filled in as an out-half against the Stormers, gives him the versatility that could see him cover both centre and 10 this summer.

Back three

Munster's Mike Haley (below) is arguably playing as well as any full-back in Ireland right now, but breaking into the Irish back three will require a big call.

With Hugo Keenan and Mike Lowry looking like the current full-back selections, and James Lowe, Mack Hansen and Andrew Conway looking relatively safe as the main wing options, it probably leaves one or maybe two more spaces open in the back-field.

Based on his form this season, if Haley was to be overlooked this summer, it's hard to see how he could do any more next term, with the one-cap full-back rivaling Jack O'Donoghue as the province's most consistent player this year.

Robert Baloucoune will have eyes on one of those places, but after getting a first call-up in the Six Nations, some big performances in high-pressure games could well be enough to see Jimmy O'Brien called in.