Rúaidhrí O'Connor's predicted World Cup squad: Joe Schmidt to make big calls for Japan
Big decisions loom and, for Joe Schmidt, the deadline is fast approaching. The first thing he will do is get a clear assessment of the fitness of his squad. Once he's established that the players he wants to bring are fit and available, he'll move on to the key areas of contention.
Joey Carbery and Keith Earls are the chief concerns, but both men stepped up their workload last week and both are expected to be on the list of names submitted to World Rugby at some stage today.
Cian Healy's ankle is not expected to limit his involvement at the World Cup, while Schmidt says it is highly likely that Robbie Henshaw and Johnny Sexton will see action against Wales on Saturday.
As he watches the action on his final outing at the Aviva Stadium as coach, he'll have his fingers crossed that he won't have to make any amendments. In 2016, he lost a host of players in the PRO12 final between Leinster and Connacht and had to alter his squad on the eve of departure for South Africa and he doesn't want to repeat that experience.
This morning, however, he'll sit down with his coaches for the last time to consider the selection and he has some crunch calls to make.
Ireland will take five half-backs to Japan, leaving nine spaces for outside backs. If we consider Henshaw, Bundee Aki, Garry Ringrose, Jacob Stockdale, Earls and Rob Kearney safe, then there are three spots between Chris Farrell, Will Addison, Jordan Larmour and Andrew Conway.
Dave Kearney, for all of his effort, seems a long shot at this remove.
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Much will depend on the shape of what Schmidt wants to do, whether he wants four out-and-out centres for a bruising pool schedule or feels he would be better off with the guile and pace out wide.
Read more here:
- On the plane to Japan: Joe Schmidt aims to keep World Cup squad under wraps for a week
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Will Addison's performance at full-back on Saturday certainly gave him food for thought. The Ulster back hadn't played since January due to back surgery and he wasn't flawless, but his balanced running style added a layer of danger to Ireland's attack.
Addison would appear the perfect No 23 in Ireland's match-day squad, he can cover across the entire backline and he has the skill-set to start at outside centre if he can stay fit.
Given Jordan Larmour has played in 15 of Ireland's last 18 internationals, it would seem a big about-turn to leave the Leinster man out, but even Brian O'Driscoll suggested on Saturday that he is at risk because Andrew Conway is flying.
In 2015, he took four centres but barely used Darren Cave. The position is hugely attritional and he rarely has his three main men available but Farrell could be the odd man out. This one is the toss of a coin. All are fine players, but he can only take three.
Carbery is stepping up his rehab from his ankle injury and, while it would seem risky to pitch him in against Wales on Saturday, he should travel with or without another game under his belt.
Sexton will be involved, while Jack Carty did more than enough to ensure that he'll make the plane with a strong performance in Cardiff.
Scrum-half is a tougher decision.
Conor Murray is nailed on, but there is a toss of a coin between Luke McGrath and Kieran Marmion.
Marmion has always been narrowly ahead given his length of service and performances in the big games he started in Murray's absence. Beating the All Blacks and England, while also coming off the bench out of position and producing stands to you in Schmidt's mind.
McGrath's form and relationship with Sexton and Carbery might just be enough.
Jack McGrath looks set to be one of the highest profile players to be left out of the squad. The loosehead prop was in Cardiff to watch Dave Kilcoyne and Andrew Porter produce dominant performances in his position, while Cian Healy was Ireland's best player in Twickenham.
Tadhg Furlong is still searching for form, but he has to go, with John Ryan the back-up tighthead and Porter covering both. Healy and Kilcoyne are nailed on looseheads, providing Healy's ankle is OK.
Hooker is a more difficult choice and Rob Herring could fall victim to his lack of game-time. Handed a chance to impress against Italy, he suffered a back injury and hasn't been seen since.
Niall Scannell took his chance on Saturday, Rory Best came off the bench with real purpose and Seán Cronin offers a change-up. He may not be a favourite of the coach, but he is too dynamic to leave behind.
Back-five of the scrum
The need to take eight front-rows means there are nine spaces for second-rows and back-rows. James Ryan, Iain Henderson, Peter O'Mahony, CJ Stander, Josh van der Flier and, perhaps, Jack Conan are safe so that leaves three slots.
Tadhg Beirne's involvement in three warm-up games and ability to cover second and back-row slots suggests he'll go, while Rhys Ruddock's physicality might squeeze out Jordi Murphy's capacity to cover all three back-row positions.
So, in the second-row it comes down to Devin Toner and Jean Kleyn. The South African started the first two warm-up games, and despite a somewhat difficult day in the heavy loss to England at Twickenham, the Munster player might just get the nod over the Leinster stalwart.
Rúaidhrí O'Connor's predicted final Ireland World cup squad
Backs: R Kearney, W Addison, J Larmour, K Earls, J Stockdale, A Conway, R Henshaw, B Aki, G Ringrose, J Sexton, J Carbery, J Carty, C Murray, L McGrath. Forwards: C Healy, D Kilcoyne, R Best (capt), N Scannell, S Cronin, T Furlong, A Porter, John Ryan, James Ryan, I Henderson, J Kleyn, T Beirne, CJ Stander, P O'Mahony, J van der Flier, J Conan, R Ruddock.