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Analysis: Joe Schmidt's first World Cup cut is tough on two men - but bodes well for a few others



Jean Kleyn is aiming to force his way into contention for the World Cup. Photo: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile

Jean Kleyn is aiming to force his way into contention for the World Cup. Photo: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile

Jean Kleyn is aiming to force his way into contention for the World Cup. Photo: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile

For Rory Scannell and Ultan Dillane, the World Cup is over before it has even got going.

Joe Schmidt's first cut came before the warm-up games had even started and, having briefly swelled to 45, the panel of players vying for places on the plane to Japan is down to 43.

Before returning to Munster and Connacht, they'll have been told to stay fit and ready having banked a couple of months of pre-season with the squad. Both players know they'll need a poor run of injuries to have a hope of travelling.

The centre and the second-row were both long-odds outsiders to make the final 31-man panel, but as long as you're in you have a chance.

Ahead of Saturday's opening warm-up fixture, the coach sent a reminder to his squad that this is a ruthless business and he won't be shirking the big decisions.

There is no guarantee that all of the remaining 43 players will be capped in the next five-and-a-half weeks, with Schmidt set to continue his whittling-down progress.

Given the calibre of midfielders ahead of him in the pecking order, Scannell was always in an uphill battle having not played for Ireland since the summer of 2017.

Robbie Henshaw, Garry Ringrose and Bundee Aki will all go if fit, with the versatile Will Addison and Chris Farrell vying for a fourth spot.

Dillane had been involved more recently, featuring three times during the Six Nations and impressing in the win over France.

Like the midfield, the second-row hierarchy is established with James Ryan, Devin Toner and Iain Henderson regulars in the match-day 23. It is now down to Munster partners Tadhg Beirne and Jean Kleyn to battle it out for the final spot.

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Like Addison in the back-line, Beirne's ability to cover a couple of positions gives him an edge, but Kleyn can count this as a little win as he edges closer to a first cap for his adopted country.

Now ahead of two regulars of the last World Cup cycle in Connacht pair Dillane and Quinn Roux, the naturalised South African could even be handed an opportunity to shine against Italy this Saturday.

Ireland's build up is slightly unusual in that they take on Conor O'Shea's men this weekend, then head to Portugal for a week on Wednesday before facing England at Twickenham and Wales back-to-back in successive weeks.

With the first fixture against Scotland 15 days after the home game against the Grand Slam champions, there will be a lot of thought given to how best to use the resources and this weekend's fixture may see an experimental line-up, with the three weeks in a row offering something of a dry-run for the pool-stage squad management.

Johnny Sexton is not expected to feature as he returns to full training after his thumb injury, while this week's training sessions will be split between the 25 or so players slotted in for the wider Italy squad who will focus on the match itself, and the rest who will work on their conditioning and provide opposition.

Kleyn is a particularly interesting figure.

It is no accident that his transfer to Munster ensured he would arrive in Ireland in September in order to allow him to feature in these matches.

A sizeable presence in the Reds' pack, the former Stormer has been an impressive operator at provincial level.

He may not have Beirne's array of skills, but his more traditional second-row virtues are clear to see and his scrummaging on the tighthead side will be a significant asset for the games when Ireland choose to give Tadhg Furlong a rest.

The decision to retain the other uncapped player in the squad, Mike Haley, suggests that he will have role to play in the weeks ahead, too.

The former Sale Shark, who qualifies for Ireland as his grandmother hails from Kerry, didn't shoot the lights out in his first year in Munster but Schmidt has seen something to suggest he can play a role.

Perhaps he just wants to keep Rob Kearney on ice for a little longer, but the coach has shown that we are past the point where players are being kept around for the sake of it.

Given the competing sporting events in Dublin alone this weekend, Saturday's game might not capture the public's imagination. But for a host of contenders, this could be the only shop window to advance their World Cup claims.

Yesterday's decision to send Scannell and Dillane back to their provinces before a ball has even been kicked shows how cut-throat the next couple of weeks will be in Camp Ireland.

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