Joe Schmidt has given his Ireland stars no indication who is in the running to face Wales in Cardiff next weekend.
Ulster lock Iain Henderson admitted head coach Schmidt is “keeping us in the dark” over selection for the first of four World Cup warm-up matches.
Ireland take on Wales at the Millennium Stadium on Saturday, August 8, before facing Scotland, Wales again in a return match in Dublin and England.
Schmidt has been at pains not to reduce his resources by whittling down his training group before he names his 31-man World Cup squad on the August 31 deadline.
“Joe is so hard to predict when it comes to selecting squads,” Henderson said. “He keeps us on our toes at all times, so it’s typical of him to be keeping us in the dark and that’s what’s happening now.
“It’s making everyone work harder and harder all the time, and that in turn probably puts more pressure on him just to make those selections decisions.
“We’re not even sure what the squad will be like for next weekend’s game yet: Joe has kept us in the dark on that, and no doubt that’s deliberate.”
Ireland are better-placed than ever to reach their first World Cup semi-final in the England-based tournament that starts on September 18.
Schmidt’s men will open their World Cup Pool D account by facing Canada at the Millennium Stadium on Saturday, September 19, before clashes against Romania, Italy and France.
Highly-regarded Kiwi boss Schmidt has just signed a contract extension until June 2017, and Ireland approach the World Cup as double RBS 6 Nations champions.
Schmidt could reasonably be expected to mix up selection at the start of the warm-up fixtures, to hand fringe players the chance to impress.
Ulster second-row Henderson admitted however that Ireland’s players fully expect to be left guessing on selection until at least the early stages of next week.
The Ireland squad will return to their Carton House camp on Sunday night after a week with their provinces, where Henderson and his Ulster colleagues turned out for a full-court press kit launch at Kingspan Stadium.
“Joe wouldn’t be doing anything if he didn’t have a logical explanation for it,” said Henderson.
“If you were to take the time and ask him why we were doing specific things then he would always have an answer for that.
“He’s meticulous in his planning – everything we do is for a reason.
“Again, that’s just another way of everyone staying sharp and on their toes.
“It builds that competition again – there’s absolutely no chance of anyone thinking they can have an easy week expecting not to play next weekend or anything like that.
“In a way it allows you to focus completely on what is happening day by day.”