By Simon Lewis
Ireland coach Joe Schmidt officially named his 31-player squad for the 2015 Rugby World Cup on Tuesday morning and spoke of some very tight decisions as he confirmed he was taking just two specialist scrum-halves to England later this month.
Ulster centre Darren Cave and rookie Leinster tighthead prop Tadhg Furlong were the surprise inclusions in a squad with a total of 1043 caps to be captained by Paul O'Connell. Yet there were also notable absentees, with 2014 Ireland player of the year Andrew Trimble overlooked for one of the back three places.
Head coach Schmidt also confirmed what he had suspected last week when predicting that making his squad selection and telling those members of his extended squad they would not be going to the World Cup would be the most difficult task of his coaching career. Yet he told the omitted players not to give up hope of a late call-up should injury strike his chosen 31.
"The players have worked incredibly hard over the past two months,” Schmidt said. “Sunday was a difficult and very long day for the coaching team and an anxious one for many players. There were some very tight decisions, particularly in the back three and it was also a challenge to make sure that key positions were covered as much as a squad of 31 players allows.
“A number of players were very unlucky to miss selection. We know from observing past World Cups that it's important for us to keep track of their performances because some of them are likely to be involved in the tournament.”
Ireland 's Pool D campaign begins against Canada at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff on Saturday, September 19, followed by matches against Romania, Italy and France. First, though, Schmidt must negotiate a final pre-tournament warm-up Test against tournament hosts England at Twickenham this Saturday. The New Zealander will name his team for that appointment on Thursday.
Ireland World Cup Squad:
Hookers: Rory Best, Sean Cronin, Richardt Strauss.
Props: Tadhg Furlong, Cian Healy, Jack McGrath, Mike Ross, Nathan White.
Locks: Iain Henderson, Paul O’Connell, Donnacha Ryan, Devin Toner.
Back row: Jamie Heaslip, Chris Henry, Jordi Murphy, Sean O’Brien, Peter O’Mahony.
Scrum-halves: Conor Murray, Eoin Reddan.
Fly-halves: Paddy Jackson, Ian Madigan, Johnny Sexton.
Centres: Darren Cave, Robbie Henshaw, Jared Payne.
Back three: Tommy Bowe, Keith Earls, Luke Fitzgerald, Dave Kearney, Rob Kearney, Simon Zebo.