Joe Schmidt aiming for semi-final history
Joe Schmidt is targeting a first World Cup semi-final in Ireland's history at this month's tournament after confirming his 31-man squad.
The New Zealander can now concentrate on leading his side to the tournament after finalising the panel over the course of a six-hour meeting with his coaching staff on Sunday and delivering the news to the disappointed players who missed out over a series of emotional phone calls that night.
Expectations are high that the back-to-back Six Nations champions can go further than ever before, and Schmidt knows that, if his squad of "quality contributors" deliver on their potential, then a place in the final four is within their grasp.
"I don't have any expectations of achievement. I have lots of hopes. I have an expectation we can work as hard as we can, that we will take it one game at a time because there are banana skins early on," he said.
"We have an expectation that we can stay focused on what's immediately in front of us. The coaches will cast their eye a little bit further. We want to try to get to that last four if we can. That's probably my hope. My expectation is a bit more pragmatic and short-term."
Cian Healy may return to action against England on Saturday, although Dave Kilcoyne has remained in camp as a precaution despite not being selected in the final 31-man squad.
Keith Earls is out of that game as he follows the return to play concussion protocols, but Schmidt was upbeat on the winger's prospects.
"Cian's cleared to play, he's fit," said Schmidt. "The only problem with that is (whether) he is ready. He's been in and out of sessions, he's acquitted himself well on his first two days, so we thought we'd have a look at how that goes and confirm that on Thursday."
Schmidt is expected to name a strong side to face England after the World Cup hosts announced a near first-choice line-up yesterday, pairing Brad Barritt and Jonathan Joseph in midfield.