'He's an absolutely quality person. That was an incredibly tough conversation yesterday' - Joe Schmidt on Toner decision
Joe Schmidt said delivering the news that Devin Toner was not going to the World Cup was an incredibly tough conversation.
The head coach named his 31-man squad to go to Japan this afternoon, with the experienced second-row the most surprising omission.
Toner has been a stalwart in Schmidt's squad throughout his six years in charge, but with Munster's newly qualified South African Jean Kleyn now available, he's been deemed surplus to requirements.
Schmidt had planned to sit on his squad until Sunday, but changed tack after details of the selection appeared on Independent.ie and other outlets this morning.
Instead, he announced his squad at 1pm and gave an interview to RTÉ.
"I've coached Dev for 10 years and he's not just a lineout champion for us, he's such a good player but he's also an absolutely quality person. That was an incredibly tough conversation yesterday," he said.
"Jean Kleyn, we probably don't have a specialist tighthead second row, as such, and again at the start I said about the balance that we're looking for across that squad of 31. Jean Kleyn fitted that.
"Tadhg Beirne gives you the versatility of the second row - and he's teamed up very well with Jean Kleyn in Munster this year - but he also gives you the threat over the ball like a six or seven and he can play in the back row, he obviously did for us on the weekend.
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"James Ryan made an immediate impression coming back into the side and Iain Henderson, who has promised so much, has performed as times incredibly well for us and we're going to need him to very much put his best foot forward.
"It was a very tight decision around Dev as well."
Toner's absence is not the only big call for the coach who went for Luke McGrath over Kieran Marmion, Chris Farrell over Will Addison and Rhys Ruddock over Jordi Murphy.
Read more here:
- Ireland's Rugby World Cup squad confirmed: Devin Toner the big name to lose out as Joe Schmidt names final 31
- The winners and losers as Joe Schmidt springs big surprises in Rugby World Cup squad
"The two scrum-halves, that was incredibly tough," he said.
"If you're going to have a guy who is the quintessential team member, Kieran Marmion is someone you'd hold up as someone who has done some fantastic stuff for us. At scrum-half, but he's so versatile too and such a good man to have in the environment too.
"That was such a tough decision, again it's that balance of past performance. Conor Murray has been a world-leading scrum-half and Luke McGrath has been incredibly good this season. In competition with Kieran Marmion, that was an incredibly tough decision.
"There will be some players who are incredibly relieved as well as some players who are very disappointed. We can talk about a number of them.
"I thought Will Addison was really good on Saturday. Unfortunately for Will it's all just come a little bit too late.
"He picked up a little bit of a calf niggle, after having come back and not playing the back end of the season.
"He hadn't had that much time with us but he fits in so well and plays so well. I thought Dave Kearney had a good second half.
"Those sort of guys, Jordi Murphy he got on the ball really well twice. Once, there was quite a big side clean-out, otherwise he would have got it.
"Those guys, there's not much between this group and the guys who aren't there so, if we lose someone, at least we feel we've got someone who can step in and do a really good job.
"Those guys who now have the responsibility and opportunity to go to a Rugby World Cup, I am sure they are going to look to grasp it with both hands and, as you say, try to kick onto another level now."
Schmidt said Joey Carbery and Keith Earls will be fit to travel, with the Munster winger among those likely to be picked to face Wales in Saturday's final warm-up game.
"Keith and Joey trained yesterday and trained well. They're making the right progress.
"Keith will almost certainly play this weekend and train fully, Joey is further back and we'll see how he goes."
And the coach said Rory Best had earned his place as captain of the squad through his performance in recent weeks.
"There's always doubt in your mind when you first start a Rugby World Cup build-up because people have to get through that period of hard work and it's testing for everyone including Rory," he said.
"I felt he worked really hard. It wasn't a great game against England and, again, without taking away all of the responsibility from the players, I knew we were heavy-legged, I knew we weren't going to be at the top of our game.
"If you're trying to get the balance of ‘when do we most need to play well?', it's still in three weeks' time. Nobody wins a Rugby World Cup at a pre-World Cup Test match.
"We knew it was part of a process but even then it was incredibly disappointing.
"But in that game, I still felt that Rory, despite the lineout not functioning very well, around the park he did a good job. In the last 20 minutes at the weekend I felt he led the scrum, he made a dozen tackles in 20 minutes. That's not a guy who's miles away from being at his best."