Ultan Dillane and Rory Scannell became the first players to be jettisoned from Ireland’s World Cup planning as Joe Schmidt’s training squad was trimmed ahead of Saturday’s opening summer Test against Italy.
Ireland will play the first of four warm-up internationals when they face the Six Nations rivals coached by Conor O’Shea at the Aviva Stadium this weekend, the opening fixture of two home Guinness Summer Series Test matches which also includes the visit of Wales to Dublin on Saturday, September 7.
That final preparatory game ahead of Ireland’s World Cup pool opener against Scotland in Yokohama on September 22 will come 24 hours before the final 31-man squad for Japan is named by head coach Schmidt and the first pruning in what is expected to be a gradual process in the next four weeks started on Monday with the announcement that Connacht lock Dillane and Munster centre Scannell had returned to their provinces.
The decision came after five weeks of pre-season training which had taken the 45-man training squad from two weeks at their regular training base at Carton House near Maynooth through a week apiece in Galway, Limerick, and the IRFU’s new High Performance Centre at Abbotstown, with two rest weeks in between.
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Dillane’s departure reduces Ireland’s second-row stocks to five, including uncapped Munster lock Jean Kleyn, who signed for his province three years ago from his native South Africa and becomes eligible for Ireland under World Rugby’s current residency rules this Thursday.
A Test debut at the first opportunity could be on the cards for Kleyn, 25, as Ireland’s game this weekend is not likely to see any involvement from Schmidt’s first-team regulars.
The next trimming of the extended squad is expected after the Italy game and ahead of Ireland’s departure for warm-weather training in Portugal on Wednesday week.
Ireland will be based on the Algarve at the Quinta do Lago sports campus before flying direct to London and their second warm-up against England at Twickenham on August 24. Saturday’s opener against Italy could be the final chance for inexperienced fringe players to impress before numbers are reduced for the trip to Portugal.
With such large playing numbers to manage between now and the final cut, Ireland’s World Cup hopefuls are expected to be kept busy with their preparations even when not included in matchday 23s, with those not selected for Twickenham being sent straight back to Carton House from Portugal to continue training ahead of the back-to-back games against Six Nations champions Wales on August 31 in Cardiff and Dublin a week later.
Forwards (23): Finlay Bealham (Buccs/Connacht, 9 caps); Rory Best (Banbridge/Ulster, 117); Tadhg Beirne (Lansdowne/Munster, 5); Jack Conan (Old Belvedere/Leinster, 14); Sean Cronin (St Mary’s/Leinster, 68); Tadhg Furlong (Clontarf/Leinster, 33); Cian Healy (Clontarf/Leinster, 88); Iain Henderson (Queens Uni/Ulster, 44); Rob Herring (Ballynahinch/Ulster, 7); Dave Kilcoyne (UL Bohs/Munster, 29); Jean Kleyn (Munster, 0); Jack McGrath (St Marys/Leinster, 54); Jordi Murphy (Lansdowne/Ulster, 27); Tommy O’Donnell (UL Bohs/Munster, 12): Peter O’Mahony (Cork Con/Munster, 57); Andrew Porter (UCD/Leinster, 14); Rhys Ruddock (Lansdowne/Leinster, 21); James Ryan (UCD/Leinster, 17); John Ryan (Cork Con/Munster, 18); Niall Scannell (Dolphin/Munster, 14); CJ Stander (Shannon/Munster, 31), Devin Toner (Lansdowne/Leinster, 64); Josh van der Flier (UCD/Leinster, 17)
Backs (20): Will Addison (Enniskillen/Ulster, 3); Bundee Aki (Galwegians/Connacht, 17); Ross Byrne (UCD/Leinster, 2); Joey Carbery (Clontarf/Munster, 18); Jack Carty (Buccs/Connacht, 3); Andrew Conway (Garryowen/Munster, 12); John Cooney (Terenure/Ulster, 8); Keith Earls (Young Munster/Munster, 77); Chris Farrell (Young Munster/Munster, 5); Mike Haley (Munster, 0); Robbie Henshaw (Buccs/Leinster, 37); Dave Kearney (Lansdowne/Leinster, 17); Rob Kearney (UCD/Leinster, 90); Jordan Larmour (St Mary’s/Leinster, 13); Kieran Marmion (Galwegians/Connacht, 25); Luke McGrath (UCD/Leinster, 10); Conor Murray (Garryowen/Munster, 72); Garry Ringrose (UCD/Leinster, 20); Jonathan Sexton (St Marys/Leinster, 83); Jacob Stockdale (Lurgan/Ulster, 19)