Schmidt may take two No 9s to Japan as Cooney left out

Deep cuts: Ulster out-half John Cooney is out of World Cup contention despite his versatility. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

Rúaidhrí O'Connor

Ireland made their way to Portugal yesterday three players lighter after Joe Schmidt cut John Cooney, Mike Haley and Finlay Bealham from his World Cup squad.

Joey Carbery was aboard the flight as the IRFU clarified that his ankle issue is expected to rule him out for between four to six weeks, meaning he should be fit to travel to Japan and be available for the tournament opener against Scotland on September 22.

Cooney's omission was the biggest surprise from Schmidt's latest cull. Given the Ulster star's capacity to cover scrum-half and out-half, the decision to move forward without him suggests Schmidt is leaning towards bringing just two No 9s to Japan.

Such a move would see Carbery cover the scrum-half role, having played in the position during his UCD days, with Kieran Marmion and Luke McGrath battling to join Conor Murray on the plane.

The decision to leave Bealham out appears to cement John Ryan and Andrew Porter's places in the final 31-man squad as long as they can come through the three warm-up games.

Ireland take on England on Saturday week, before concluding with back-to-back fixtures against Wales.

Munster's Haley, who made his Ireland debut against Italy last weekend, always looked an outside bet to travel.

Ireland are in the Algarve for the next stage of their preparations and will remain in their warm-weather base until this day week when they fly to London ahead of their meeting with England at Twickenham.

Schmidt is due to finalise his 31-man squad between the Wales games in three weeks' time.