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Saturday 14 December 2019

Joe's axe falls

Jean Kleyn
Jean Kleyn

It seemed like Ireland's Rugby World Cup prospects aged over the meagre span of one afternoon last February, when England dominated in the Aviva Stadium.

From there, the Irish never really regained the spark that propelled them to second in the rankings behind New Zealand.

The lingering doubts outside of Carton House were confirmed when Wales completed the Grand Slam. There is nothing like the clean slate of an off-season to allow pause for thought and the regeneration of an improved game plan.

After all, everything seems better when the sun is shining.

However, that is already not the case for Connacht lock Ultan Dillane and Munster centre Rory Scannell.

According to the IRFU's squad update yesterday, both men "have returned to their provincial bases" for - on the face of it - an unexplained reason. However, the cut-throat nature of Ireland's preparations are well underway as Ireland coach Joe Schmidt decided Dillane and Scannell would be the first to fall on rugby reasons.

It is a taste of what could be to come as Ireland make ready for the first of four pre-tournament internationals against Italy at the Aviva Stadium on Saturday.

The bloated squad of 45 has been whittled down to 43 and there could well be others on the chopping block as early as next Monday. The fact that Rory Best has not been officially named as the captain is just following the protocols that go with a training camp squad. Primarily, this is connected to the fact Best will start no more than two of the internationals, maybe even fewer.

However, the shaving of Dillane and Scannell comes as good news for two others, in particular.

JEAN KLEYN

There are just two players still burdened by earning their first Ireland cap - Jean Kleyn and Mike Haley.

The South African-born second row Kleyn is a natural workhorse for the trench warfare that is coming Ireland's way. Devin Toner, James Ryan and Iain Henderson are all presumed travellers.

The main reason for looking closely at Kleyn is his natural fit as a tight-head scrummager.

WILL ADDISON

The inclusion of Ulster's Addison, recovered from serious injury, meant Schmidt just had too many centres at Carton House. Robbie Henshaw, Garry Ringrose, Bundee Aki and Chris Farrell have been the faithful four from last season.

The involvement of Addison should at least provide support for and competition to Rob Kearney as the only out-and-out full-back. This is what could make Haley surplus to requirements as Schmidt is unlikely to take two men that would limit his options.

IRELAND GUINNESS SUMMER SERIES SQUAD - Forwards (23): F Bealham, R Best, T Beirne, J Conan, S Cronin, T Furlong, C Healy, I Henderson, R Herring, D Kilcoyne, J Kleyn, J McGrath, J Murphy, T O'Donnell, P O'Mahony, A Porter, R Ruddock, James Ryan, John Ryan, N Scannell, CJ Stander, D Toner, J van der Flier;

Backs (20): W Addison, B Aki, R Byrne, J Carbery, J Carty, A Conway, J Cooney, K Earls, C Farrell, M Haley, R Henshaw, D Kearney, R Kearney, J Larmour, K Marmion, L McGrath, C Murray, G Ringrose, J Sexton, J Stockdale.

IRELAND Fixtures

IRELAND v Italy, Aviva, Sat Aug 1 0, KO 2.00pm - RTE2/CH4.

IRELAND v Wales, Aviva, Sat 7 Sept, KO 2.00pm - RTE2/CH4.

England v IRELAND, Twickenham, Sat Aug 24, KO 3.00pm - Sky Sports.

Wales v IRELAND, Principality, Sat Aug 31, KO 2.30pm - CH4.

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