Schmidt set to choose near full-strength squad for trip to Argentina
JOE SCHMIDT will watch this weekend's RaboDirect Pro12 semi-finals before announcing his squad for the summer tour to Argentina on Monday.
However, the tour is set to be undermined by the fact that the Pumas will be unable to call on their frontline European stars whose clubs have reached the latter stages of the league competitions for the two Tests against Ireland on Sundays June 8 and 15 in Resistencia and Tucuman.
Although Schmidt could choose to rest Cian Healy ahead of next year's World Cup, the Ireland coach looks likely to bring as strong a squad as possible on the tour given his concerns over the number of games he has left to fine-tune his plans before the global tournament, which kicks off in September 2015.
Schmidt will avail of the fact that none of the provinces is in action during Heineken Cup final week to assemble his troops for a short camp on Monday and Tuesday next week in Dublin, where they will train at the Aviva Stadium.
However, Argentina will be missing the likes of Juan Martin Hernandez, Juan Imhoff, Gonzalo Camacho and Horacio Agulla in the backs, while Juan Martín Fernández Lobbe, Juan Manuel Leguizamón, Patricio Albacete, Marco Ayerza and Julio Farías Cabello will not be included in the forwards ranks.
Those players are not being released by their European clubs for either the June Tests and the Rugby Championship, which kicks off in July, with the southern hemisphere championship given priority over the internationals against Ireland and Scotland.
Coach Daniel Hourcade has already begun preparations for the tour by assembling a 26-man squad.
It's largely drawn from domestic players who will be supplemented by a number of lower-profile players based in England, France, New Zealand and South Africa.
They play Uruguay in Salto this weekend, before taking on Chile in Santiago on May 25.
Most Irish players have committed to the tour, with Paul O'Connell set to captain, while Jonathan Sexton's participation in next week's camp will depend on tonight's Top 14 semi-final clash between his Racing Metro and Toulon.
The fly-half is likely to travel as long as he avoids injury before the end of the season, but if Racing progress to the final – scheduled for May 31, the day before the tour party leaves for Argentina – he would not be released.