Joe Schmidt has spent four years building a greater strength in depth into the Ireland squad but Jonathan Sexton knows that the success of such endeavours will be judged on how the team fares at the World Cup.
Ireland were deprived of key men for the quarter-final against Argentina four years ago. They paid the price with an ultimately comprehensive defeat but travel to Japan in the hope that this squad of 31 is better prepared for any such circumstances.
“It's hard to compare,” said Sexton on Tuesday and ahead of Saturday's last warm-up game, against Wales in Dublin. “Even when you look at those 2011 games, it's like a different game almost. In a short period of time the game just moves on so it is very hard to compare squads.
“There is good strength in depth there now. That's what we've built over the last couple of years through guys getting injured, Joe giving guys lots of chances through the last couple of Six Nations, and we'll see if we are the strongest squad put together if we get past the quarter-final.”
Much of the focus on Monday's squad announcement rested on the decision to omit Devin Toner with recently-qualified South African lock Jean Kleyn named in his stead despite earning just two caps since his summer call-up.
“I played with Dev all the way through,” said Sexton. “You're obviously looking out for yourself first of all in selection and then you are thinking about those closest to you. I feel for Dev, as I do for Kieran Marmion, who has put in an unbelievable amount of work. The list goes on: Jordi (Murphy), Will Addison.
“Guys that came so close, that are still in (training) with us: it shows the mark of those guys that they are willing to come in after such disappointment to train as they have over the last couple of days, they know that they could be needed. There is a game to play still, guys could pick up knocks so those guys need to be ready.”
Sexton seems ready himself.
A thumb injury and an unspecified “stiffness” have compromised his own lead-in to this tournament but Schmidt confirmed on Tuesday that the reigning world player of the year will start at ten against the Welsh in a game that will see two largely locked and loaded sides have one last hit-out before the really serious business begins.
“Looking forward to it. It's been a good pre-season, frustrating obviously, picking up the knock at a bad time. Yeah, looking forward to it now.”