Joe Schmidt’s hopes of a grand unveiling of his World Cup squad today were scuppered after his 31-man panel apparently leaked across the media last night.
The head coach today officially names the players he will take to the tournament in England and Cardiff later this month but the announcement was preempted by the emergence of a squad list last night, in which wing Andrew Trimble and a third specialist scrum-half appear to be the notable absentees while tighthead prop Tadhg Furlong and centre Darren Cave look to be the surprise inclusions.
Schmidt is understood to have told the players their fate on Sunday night. The 31 survivors then reported for duty at Carton House yesterday to begin preparations for Saturday’s final warm-up against England at Twickenham.
Loosehead prop Cian Healy is on course to make his first appearance of pre-season after neck surgery in May but the inclusion of Furlong as a third tighthead behind Mike Ross and Nathan White rather than a third covering loosehead such as Michael Bent or Dave Kilcoyne suggests the medical update on Healy’s rehabilitation has been more advanced than first thought.
Trimble’s absence is not entirely unexpected save for the fact that he was the Ireland’s player of the championship in the 2014 Six Nations success but again, despite coming through 80 minutes for Ulster at the weekend, he appears to have paid the price for a season lost to a toe injury and his 34-minute run against Wales last month in Cardiff before succumbing to a foot injury was not enough to convince Schmidt, who appears to have chosen Dave Kearney, Simon Zebo, Luke Fitzgerald and Keith Earls alongside full-back Rob Kearney as his back three options.
Both Earls (head) and Fitzgerald (glute) failed to finish the Wales defeat on Saturday but their flexibility as midfield cover has proven persuasive with medical updates due on the pair today. Cave is another option in the centre as back-up for starting pair Robbie Henshaw and Jared Payne.
The biggest gamble however, appears to be the inclusion of two specialist scrum-halves, Conor Murray and Eoin Reddan. A third, most likely Isaac Boss, was expected but Schmidt has preferred to free up a spot for an extra outside back. Fly-half Ian Madigan, already the Irish set-up’s most versatile back providing cover at inside centre and full-back is the putative third option at nine despite the head coach insisting last week he had not trained there all summer, but there is a huge element of fingers crossed involved that either of his specialists can stay fit for the campaign, which starts on September 19 against Canada in Cardiff.
Ireland possible 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.
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