Joe Schmidt set to cut seven players from Ireland squad in next week
It’s a good problem to have, but Joe Schmidt just wants it to go away now.
Forty-five Ireland players took part in an intense training session today in Carton House. There are still some big names to return from injury, including Cian Healy, and only 31 will be on the plane in a few weeks’ time when Ireland embark on their World Cup journey.
Schmidt admits that Healy will be assessed on a match-by-match basis but he must be happy with how things are progressing right now.
Flanked by a player who will take part in his first Test match (against Wales on Saturday) in over two years in Donnacha Ryan, the victorious Six Nations coach admits there is serious discussion to be had over the next few weeks as he whittles his squad down to 23.
“I want to have my mind made up now, it would make it a lot easier,” said Schmidt when asked when he thought he will have a clearer idea of the final squad.
“There are some really tough decisions to make. We have had many discussions about it.
"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."
For this weekend’s clash in the Millennium Stadium, Schmidt has chosen many players who have not been regular starters under his watch.
“It’s a team that we think is ideal to get out there at this stage. It’s a team that is fully fit, ready to go and have worked really hard. They want to grab an opportunity, they know it is competitive within the squad.
“I think there are players there who haven’t had too much opportunity in recent years, the vast majority through injury so for this group it is a very good opportunity to get out there and show they can combine well.”
Donnacha Ryan is one player who will be keen to stamp his authority against Wales on Saturday.
“It’s great to be back. I thought it would never happen to be honest and I am really looking forward to it. I am really enjoying the training, it is very high octane stuff, very energised,” said Ryan.
“The first game of pre season is always very tough so you have to empty the tank as much as possible and it’s more a question of mental strength as anything else.”
While Schmidt says that Saturday is not the one opportunity fringe players will get to stake their World Cup claim, he did make it pretty clear that their performance in the Millennium Stadium will tell him a lot.
“I wouldn’t say it is a one opportunity. They have worked very hard and we have taken note of how hard they have trained. It’s a vet narrow window, 40 minutes each way to make or break.
“But it is the litmus test. It is where we find out in a big stadium in front of a big crowd whether they can stay in the game and physically and mentally deliver what is required.
“It’s probably the best examination but it has been an examination over the past six weeks to see who is physically and mentally prepared.
“I think we are probably more self-obsessed about this game, looking at ourselves and looking at what we can deliver as opposed to looking at Wales and I would be pretty sure they will be the same.”
Every day that Cian Healy takes to the training pitch will give Schmidt reason for optimism but a decision on the Leinster man’s participation could go right to the wire.
“There is no hard and fast rule, we are very much working week to week with Cian. He did an individual session today. We are just hoping the picture gets clearer as we get closer so that we can make a decision that would see him fully fit to start the tournament.
“We play two weeks prior to the first game so if we thought he might not be fit by England but would be fit for Canada, then I am not sure what we would decide but it would be part of a decision-making process.
“Cian is the only one who is in that situation. The other three lads who are coming back from injury, they will more than likely be involved wither next week or in the Wales return match.”