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Sunday 4 December 2016

'Joe Schmidt knows his World Cup squad and he's keeping us guessing'

Joe Schmidt is keeping his players in the dark on World Cup warm-up match selection plans
Joe Schmidt is keeping his players in the dark on World Cup warm-up match selection plans

Joe Schmidt already knows Ireland's 31-man World Cup squad, according to Reggie Corrigan.

Schmidt has kept his training squad as wide as possible but ex-Leinster star Corrigan believes Ireland's head coach has his final selection all-but settled in his mind.

Ireland must submit their World Cup squad on August 31, with Saturday's Cardiff clash with Wales the first of three warm-up matches for fringe stars to state their case.

Former Ireland prop Corrigan expects only stellar showings in home and away meetings with Wales and a Dublin battle with Scotland can now alter Schmidt's way of thinking.

"This is new to him given it's his first World Cup, so he wants to make sure he doesn't sell himself short or make any rash decisions," Corrigan told Press Association Sport.

"But I would say he has pretty much already made up his mind and he knows where he's at in terms of his squad.

"He's obviously still got time and the games ahead, and there's no doubt players can still force him to rethink his plans.

"But I would think barring any sort of injury, which hopefully won't happen to anyone, or a stand-out performance either in training or one of the warm-up matches, I doubt too much he'll be radically changing his mind."

Double RBS 6 Nations champions Ireland will complete their World Cup preparations by taking on England at Twickenham on September 5.

By then Schimdt's squad will be set in stone, leaving only fine-tuning ahead of Ireland's Pool D opener against Canada in Cardiff on September 19.

Corrigan believes Schmidt's biggest selection dilemmas could fall around his playmakers, and just how many he can squeeze into the final squad.

British and Irish Lions stars Conor Murray and Johnny Sexton are the obvious starting half-backs, but behind that Schmidt has battled for balance throughout his Ireland tenure.

Should Schmidt settle on selecting just two fly-halves, then Leinster's Ian Madigan and Ulster's Paddy Jackson face a straight fight to make the cut.

"The half-backs and 10s are probably key, and the props will be an issue as well, because of the sheer number you need to cover in the front-row," said Corrigan.

"Probably nine and 10 are going to be the two most difficult decisions he has to make.

"You've got clear top performers in both those positions, but then it's about whether he wants to take three 10s or three scrum-halves, and how that would affect the balance if he did.

"That's where versatility can really be vital.

"These camps and warm-up matches give a great opportunity to build two or three different types of game they can play.

"It's been the perfect chance to build different approaches.

"Joe's empowered the players to figure these things out and make decisions based on what's in front of them.

"So I think the players will be given two or three different options, and from those they will choose what fits best."

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