Race to Japan heats up as Schmidt cuts Dillane and Scannell for opener
Before a ball has even been kicked, Joe Schmidt made the first move towards culling his squad of players to the 31 he will take to Japan next month by omitting Munster's Rory Scannell and Ultan Dillane from the panel for this weekend's first warm-up match against Italy.
The departure of the duo means the numbers at training at their Carton House base is down to 43 as they gear up for the first of four Tests that will allow the head coach to further assess his options before settling on a final travelling party at the end of the month.
Scannell last played for Ireland against Japan on the summer tour in June 2017, while Dillane played three times in this year's Six Nations.
His omission leaves the door open for Munster's Jean Kleyn to make his international debut at the Aviva Stadium on Saturday after completing his three-year residency last Thursday.
The South African lock appears to be in a straight shoot-out with his provincial team-mate Tadhg Beirne to join James Ryan, Devin Toner and Iain Henderson as the fourth second-row.
Similarly, the decision to leave Scannell out sees Will Addison remain in the squad after initially missing out on squad selection.
Having overcome his hamstring issues, the versatile Ulster back appears to be in a battle with Andrew Conway and Chris Farrell for a spot on the plane to Japan.
Leinster's Johnny Sexton is back training after recovering from his thumb problem, but the out-half is not expected to be involved this weekend.
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Indeed, both Ireland and Italy could field experimental teams at the Aviva Stadium as they attempt to manage their resources at the outset of a busy month.