Joe Schmidt flies to Tbilisi with World Cup places on the line
Joe Schmidt faces a hectic weekend as he jets into Italy and Georgia to run the rule over some possible recruits for Ireland's World Cup campaign.
First up for Schmidt, who will be accompanied by Simon Easterby and Les Kiss, is Ireland's U-20s match against Scotland in Brescia; the trio will then head for the Caucuses to watch Emerging Ireland's last match of the Tbilisi Cup against the hosts.
The final match was meant to be just that - a final - and a climax against their toughest opponents.
However, the failure of a second-string Georgia to collect even a losing bonus point in their surprise defeat at the hands of Emerging Italy on Wednesday night means that Ireland have already won the tournament before tomorrow's kick-off.
Silverware, however, was never the priority for this development trip; rather the opportunity for younger players to experience another level of competition and, for some, a chance to impress the national coaches.
That Schmidt departed Dublin just hours after Rhys Ruddock returned home with an arm injury is a major blow to the exercise, though there remain those in with a shout.
"Joe has been fantastic. He was with us in camp in Dublin before we left," said Emerging XV coach Allen Clarke.
"He led in terms of selection, engaging with the provincial coaches, including myself, so he is very closely connected with this (squad) - as are Les Kiss, Simon Easterby and the whole of the management team.
"Footage of our first two games is already back in Ireland being broken down, reviewed and analysed.
"Joe is obviously looking at players who, in the short-term, could play themselves into the World Cup, but also at a few who could be prospects for the next World Cup.
"The provinces are also keeping a watching eye ahead of the next Pro12 season."
Billy Holland takes over the captaincy from Ruddock and will be among those hoping for at least a place in this summer's World Cup training party given his involvement, albeit limited, with the Six Nations.
Jack Conan was identified as a potential international by Schmidt after his inclusion in the extended squad for the Championship.
Props James Cronin, Denis Buckley and Stephen Archer will also have a chance to prove themselves against respectable opponents, while scrum-half John Cooney and centre Noel Reid could enhance their causes, should there be injuries further up the pecking order.
However, Ireland must improve from their previous games, when they failed to build on good starts against both Emerging Italy and Uruguay, for any of the players to really catch the eye.
Clarke added: "We need to produce an 80-minute performance not just a half against better opponents in Georgia."
Meanwhile, Australia will host England in a three-match series for the first time next year.
The opening Test will take place in Brisbane on June 11, with the second match in Melbourne a week later and the final game in Sydney on June 25.
England, who beat the Wallabies 26-17 at Twickenham in November last year, have not toured Australia since 2010.
The teams will meet in Pool A of the World Cup on Saturday, October 3.