Joe Schmidt will cut as many as seven players from Ireland’s World Cup training squad next week.
Head coach Schmidt has been at pains to leave Ireland’s options as open as possible in the long build-up to September’s global showdown, but conceded the time for tough decisions is nigh.
Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt, right, and Donnacha Ryan during their press conference today at Carton House, Maynooth. Picture: Sam Barnes/SPORTSFILE
Schmidt has retained 45 players in his training squad but will start whittling that down following Saturday’s warm-up clash against Wales in Cardiff.
Ireland must name their final 31-man World Cup squad on August 31, with home and away Tests against Wales and a Dublin battle with Scotland all to come in advance.
“I want to have my mind made up now: it would make it a lot easier!” said Schmidt regarding World Cup selection.
“There are some really tough decisions. Over the next week or so that inevitably has to happen.
“We’ve got to hone the group and those decisions are tough enough without even looking at the 31.
“We might end up with 38 or 39 in a week’s time, and then we have to take it from there again.”
Schmidt denied Saturday represents the one and only opportunity for a clutch of stars to prove their World Cup worth.
The former Leinster boss branded the Cardiff match “the biggest examination” after a gruelling six-week training stint.
For men like Donnacha Ryan, Keith Earls and Ulster centre Darren Cave however, this could well be their sole opportunity to force Schmidt’s selection hand.
“I wouldn’t say it’s the one opportunity, they’ve worked really hard and we’ve taken note of how they’ve trained,” said Schmidt.
“It’s a very narrow window, but it is the litmus test, it is where we find out whether they can stay in the game and physically and mentally deliver what is required.
“It’s probably the biggest examination but it’s been an examination over the last six weeks.”
Cian Healy in training with the rest of the Ireland squad at Carton House this week. Picture: Matt Browne/SPORTSFILE
Schmidt also admitted Cian Healy’s protracted recovery from neck surgery could pose a selection conundrum further down the track.
Ireland face England on September 5, before opening their Pool D World Cup account against Canada on September 19.
Schmidt conceded he remains unsure what approach he would take should Healy look likely to miss the England game but be expected to be ready to face Canada.
“We’re just hoping the picture gets clearer as we get closer so that we can make a decision that would see him fully fit at least to start the tournament,” said Schmidt.
“We play two weeks prior to the first game so if we thought he might not be fit for England but he would be fit for Canada I’m not sure what we’d decide.”