Sport Rugby World Cup 2019

Sunday 22 September 2019

On the plane to Japan: Joe Schmidt aims to keep World Cup squad under wraps for a week

Ireland’s Bundee Aki makes a break during yesterday’s match against Wales in Cardiff. Photo: PA
Ireland’s Bundee Aki makes a break during yesterday’s match against Wales in Cardiff. Photo: PA
Bundee Aki, supported by Ireland team-mate Dave Kearney, is tackled by Hallam Amos of Wales. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Ryan Elias of Wales is tackled by Dave Kilcoyne of Ireland

Rúaidhrí O'Connor

Joe Schmidt has lived in Ireland long enough to know that secrets rarely stay secret for long. But the coach is hoping the squad he submits to World Rugby will stay under wraps until Sunday's official announcement.

That's despite the fact he intends to inform the players who haven't made the cut this morning, before hitting send on his email.

Bad news travels faster, even if a couple of those cut from the squad will remain in camp to help the 31 prepare.

The New Zealander has spoken about how England's players were in a better mental state than Ireland in Twickenham because they already knew where they stood, but he has chosen to wait until the deadline has passed before revealing his hand.

It is a curious strategy.

It seems highly likely that Ireland will be the last team to announce their squad publicly ahead of the World Cup in Japan.

Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

Schmidt was in curious form in the aftermath of Ireland's win over Wales on Saturday. In the warm-up he was energised, sprinting along with his players as he made up the numbers in defensive drills, but a tough week looked to have taken its toll during a downbeat briefing.

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Leaked teams have long been a bugbear of the former Leinster supremo and he won't be happy when his 31-man squad emerges into the public domain at some stage this week.

It's an element of the job he's never got to grips with. Still, he will press ahead with his plan regardless.

"Some players will definitely know, the ones that are within reach because I don't want it floating too long," he said of the process of selection.

"One of the difficulties for us is when guys release teams or guys let people know, it would be a hell of a disappointment for players to find out via the media so that's one of the considerations for me is to make sure I get to them first and they know first-hand from me who's selected and, if they've missed out, why we've selected someone in front of them and the need we have for them to stay dialled in.

"Even with the 31, there's every chance we'll need two or three other guys in training.

"Thirty-one isn't that many to do training with and if anyone has cramp or got anything that's untoward we will want to rest them for a couple of days, so we'll probably have a few spare players in anyway.

"The thing is, I know what's going to happen, we're going to go into a room and come up with 22 or 24 or 25 names and then we're going to 'oh, OK, is it this or this or this guy?'

"That's the really tricky bit, those last few names that are most complicated and they're the finest lines to make decisions when there's not too much between the players. Sometimes one player might miss out because we want to get this balance in our back-row or we want to make sure we've got a balance in our back-three.

"That's some of the conundrum.

"Sometimes, as an individual, I know, and I understand, sometimes you might say 'I can't believe he hasn't picked this guy' as opposed to someone else. He might have a left foot or a different persona or character on the pitch or a different set of skills on the pitch that we need to bring other people into the game and sometimes those things can be overlooked a little bit. It's hard to put all that balance together."

Of course fans and pundits would understand those decisions better if Schmidt, like his rival coaches, held a squad announcement press conference, but that's not the plan.

Instead, he'll play Wales and talk about that game without having publicly revealed his own hand.

It all seems a little messy.

Still, that game is his final one as Ireland coach at the Aviva Stadium and the players and supporters will hope to give him a fitting farewell.

"To be honest, I won't be too emotional. I'll be bedraggled after making those phone calls and a little bit dazed and confused probably, to be honest," he said.

"It's been a really tough three or four weeks for me, emotionally, anyway, so it puts things into perspective."

RISING STOCK

Dave Kilcoyne

After the debacle in Twickenham, Ireland needed energy in their team and the Munster prop bristled with the stuff. Big carries and thunderous tackles lifted the team’s mood and propelled them forward.

Jack Carty

Effectively sealed his place on the plane with his performance in Cardiff. The variation in his game was good, even if the execution wasn't as smart, but defensively the Connacht out-half was excellent and that will count in his favour.

Bundee Aki

His defensive errors cost the team big last weekend, but this was vintage Aki. He looks in the shape of his life and he put that lean mass to good use with a dominant display.

Andrew Porter

Wales' front-row might not have been elite, but Porter was destructive on the loosehead side. He hasn't played there for a few years and he had Devin Toner helping out behind him, but forcing a yellow card and a penalty try was an excellent return.

FALLING STOCK

Jack Conan

An ankle injury affected his pre-season and while he carried very well in heavy traffic, the Wicklow native didn't quite do enough to force the issue on selection. Like many of last week's players, he wilted as half-time approached on his first outing. Deserves another shot, at least off the bench.

Jack McGrath

Travelled to Wales to help with the warm-up, but that is highly likely to be the three-Test Lion's last involvement in this World Cup campaign. Porter's performance on the loosehead side might even have pushed Ulster's new signing further down the pecking order. Although he's been playing on the tighthead side, the youngster came through as a No 1 and is well able to scrummage. His physical gifts are too strong to ignore.

Chris Farrell

Did some things right, but won't be happy with elements of his performance and remains fourth choice and at risk from a late squad re-think if Schmidt wants Addison, Conway and Larmour.

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