One month to go - here is the Rugby World Cup projected 31
The Rugby World Cup is now just one month away and, for those with tickets or simply looking forward to taking in as much of the competition as possible, it's time to get excited.
At this stage, you know if you've shelled out the big bucks to see Ireland's games in Cardiff and London in the flesh or if you'll be watching from home. You may even make a late run at it if you can afford a hotel bed in the extortionate Welsh capital, but at least you're in control of your own destiny.
There are 45 men who are just not so sure. Some can sleep easily enough, others are pretty confident but there are plenty who still don't know if they'll be packing up their toothbrushes and heading across the Irish Sea or staying at the day-job and watching from afar.
For the last eight weeks they have poured their hearts into training under the watchful eye of Joe Schmidt who rates performance outside the arena almost as highly as how players go once they cross the white lines.
The New Zealander has started 29 players over the course of two warm-up games, with Mike Ross the only man doubling up.
Against Wales, those chosen were given an easy ride by an opposition who looked dreadfully undercooked, while those who faced Scotland got a tough examination which proved to difficult for some.
The deadline to submit squads to World Rugby is August 31, so time is running out to force your case. Some players will be allowed to get some time under their belts for their provinces on Friday night, while others will be involved against Wales next weekend - the final audition. So, what's the state of play as the countdown steps up a notch?
The cotton-wool brigade
Shoo-ins for the squad, these men are Six Nations stalwarts whose pre-season has been tailored so that they hit the ground running against Wales on Saturday week.
Johnny Sexton, Peter O'Mahony, Robbie Henshaw, Rob Kearney and Conor Murray have not seen any action yet, but there is no chance of them being left out of the squad and the quintet are all key to Ireland's efforts in England and Wales.
Paul O'Connell and Rory Best have also been managed back into action, with both key leaders given a go off the bench in each game to lend experience in the closing stages and get some match sharpness under their belts.
O'Connell's introduction on Saturday helped turn the tide of a difficult match in Ireland's favour and if all of the frontliners look as sharp as the man who is entering the final stages of his international career, then there is a lot to look forward to for Ireland.
The first wave
The first two games have been about two things: finding out more about those vying for squad places and others who are trying to get some game-time.
Jamie Heaslip, Jack McGrath, Eoin Reddan and Ross were the first of the apparent certainties introduced, while Devin Toner, Sean Cronin, Sean O'Brien and Jared Payne joined them in getting a decent hit-out last Saturday.
Iain Henderson, Chris Henry and Jordi Murphy look assured of their places, particularly after Tommy O'Donnell's misfortune, while Paddy Jackson and Ian Madigan look likely to travel with Boss's poor display last weekend unlikely to affect his chances.
Cian Healy will be given all the time he needs to recover, but it may not be enough. While the IRFU released an injury bulletin yesterday that failed to mention their key worry, the latest word is that the chances of the prop recovering in time are rated at 70/30.
He won't have to play against Wales to prove himself, especially given Ireland's schedule builds towards the France game at the start of October, but as one of Ireland's world-class operators, Healy's presence is needed if the Six Nations champions are to live up to their billing.
Andrew Trimble, meanwhile, is racing to be fit in time to face Wales where he could put huge pressure on Tommy Bowe.
Again, the winger wasn't mentioned in yesterday's update, but word is his recovery is coming along slowly and, after almost a year out with a foot problem, it appears somewhat ominous.
It's tight out wide
Although Schmidt's selections have remained remarkably consistent through his time in charge, there has been plenty of fluctuation on the wings as injury and form played their part.
If Trimble recovers sufficiently, then the coach has a real dilemma on his hands, however, with Tommy Bowe barely tearing up trees last weekend and Luke Fitzgerald failing to sparkle.
With Keith Earls and Simon Zebo showing their versatility over the past fortnight and Dave Kearney fizzing out of training and into the Scottish, a big name is likely to miss out. Fergus McFadden and Felix Jones did little wrong in Cardiff, while for Craig Gilroy it looks like his chance is gone.
Much will depend on the selection against Wales, with Kearney having earned a chance.
Schmidt will bring 14 backs, six of whom are likely to be half-backs and with Rob Kearney, Payne and Henshaw definitely going, you're left with five slots to fill. It's by far the toughest area to call.
The forgotten men
Like Earls, Donncha Ryan's barnstorming return to the international frame puts him right in the frame, with Dan Tuohy likely to miss out after an underwhelming return to the international arena.
Earls' place is likely to rule both Gordon D'Arcy and Darren Cave out of the reckoning too as he covers the No 13 shirt and Madigan looks after the inside centre channel.
The final piece of the jigsaw is likely to come in the front-row ranks where Michael Bent's ability to cover both sides puts the squeeze on the likes of Dave Kilcoyne who is relying on Healy not to recover and leaves Schmidt, Greg Feek and Simon Easterby with a straight shootout between Nathan White and Marty Moore for the final tighthead slot.
Although Moore has a body of work to his name under the current regime, he has yet to play this season and Kiwi White stole a march with an impressive cameo on Saturday.
Ruaidhri O'Connor's projected 31-man squad
Backs (14): Rob Kearney, Dave Kearney, Simon Zebo, Keith Earls, Tommy Bowe, Luke Fitzgerald, Robbie Henshaw, Jared Payne, Ian Madigan, Paddy Jackson, Johnny Sexton, Isaac Boss, Conor Murray, Eoin Reddan.
Forwards (17): Rory Best, Sean Cronin, Richardt Strauss, Cian Healy, Jack McGrath, Michael Bent, Mike Ross, Nathan White, Devin Toner, Paul O'Connell (capt), Donnacha Ryan, Iain Henderson, Jordi Murphy, Jamie Heaslip, Sean O'Brien, Peter O'Mahony, Chris Henry.
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