Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt has departed their Rugby World Cup training camp to go back to New Zealand due to a family bereavement.
Ireland play the first of four World Cup warm-ups this Saturday when Italy visit Dublin for the Guinness Summer Series Test match at Aviva Stadium and assistant coach Greg Feek said Schmidt could be back with the squad in time for the match.
“Unfortunately Joe had to go back to New Zealand due to a family bereavement,” Feek said today. “He'll be back in a few days' time. On behalf of the team, I'd like to pass on our condolences to Joe and his wider family.
“He'll be back at some stage near the end of the week.”
In the meantime, Ireland are training under the lead of defence coach Andy Farrell, the man set to succeed Schmidt when he steps down from the head coach role after this autumn’s World Cup in Japan.
Feek added: “Joe has things in place and that includes the management, particularly the coaches, and the players know they're roles. It has been quite seamless in that sense and we all know Joe is on the computer keeping an eye on things as well. That's the environment we're in, we've got to keep going and prepare for a really important Test match this week.
“Andy has taken the reins and has been doing quite a good job to be fair to him.”
Ireland are expected to name a mix and match side on Thursday to face the Italians on Saturday, giving an opportunity to fringe players in the extended 43-man squad alongside more senior frontliners in need of game time.
Feek reported no injury concerns even joking that Johnny Sexton, who dislocated a thumb in the early weeks of pre-season in June, had given him “the thumbs up” that he was ready to go.
Schmidt’s men will face England at Twickenham and home and away fixtures against Wales after Saturday’s Italy encounter, to complete their warm-up schedule.
Ireland released lock Ultan Dillane and centre Rory Scannell earlier this week, with both now unlikely to be called back into World Cup plans barring injuries.
Munster lock Jean Kleyn comes into contention for his debut against Italy having survived that cull.
“We had quite a big squad and you just have to start making some calls,” said Feek.
“We had six locks and a few outside backs there too.
“They did really well. But these are the tough calls we have to start making.
“There’s definitely some areas we’re still discussing.”