Rugby World Cup 2015: Joe Schmidt names 45-man Ireland squad
Reigning Six Nations champions name experienced extended training squad led by veterans Paul O'Connell and Gordon D'Arcy
Joe Schmidt has named a 45-man squad as Ireland look to get beyond the quarter-final stages of the Rugby World Cup for the first time.
The Ireland head coach admits some difficult decisions had to be made as the reigning RBS 6 Nations champions look to take their form into rugby’s showpiece event that begins in September.
Some injured players who are getting close to full fitness have been included, while others have missed out due to prolonged absence or lack of opportunity to demonstrate their full Test match readiness.
Irish rugby has been in rich form of late, securing back-to-back Six Nations titles, as well as recording autumn wins over both Australia and Australia, while an Emerging Ireland development squad also won the Tbilisi Cup earlier this month.
Despite Leinster’s failure to make the Guinness PRO12 play-offs for the first time since they were introduced, 22 of the 45 players are drawn from the province, including talisman Johnny Sexton who will return to Dublin this summer following his spell in France.
Ulster have 11 players in the squad, three more than PRO12 runners-up Munster, with Connacht providing two in scrum-half Kieran Marmion and centre Robbie Henshaw.
Veteran Leinster and Ireland centre Gordon D’Arcy, who played his last game for his province in May and is set to retire after the Rugby World Cup, also makes the squad.
Following his mini stroke in 2014, Ulster flanker Chris Henry has been included following his return to the international set-up with an outing for an Ireland XV against the Barbarians last month.
He is joined in the squad by Ulster team-mate Andrew Trimble. The winger, who was Ireland’s player of the year in 2014, missed the majority of the PRO12 season with a toe injury allowing Craig Gilroy to shine in his stead, but 30-year-old is fit again and one of seven wingers named by Schmidt.
Munster scrum-half Conor Murray, who missed the Guinness PRO12 final, and Leinster flanker Sean O’Brien have both been named in the squad despite injury problems, but both are expected to be good to go when Ireland get down to business.
The same cannot be said of Rhys Ruddock, who broke his arm while captaining the Emerging Ireland squad at the Tbilisi Cup earlier this month.
The Leinster back-row forward, who has five international caps to his name, has been ruled out of the tournament.
“The squad selection has been a long process with some very tight decisions,” Schmidt said.
“Some injured players who are getting close to full fitness have been included, while others have missed out due to prolonged absence or lack of opportunity to demonstrate their full Test match readiness.
“Rhys Ruddock would have been selected but has been ruled him out after fracturing his arm against Uruguay in the Tbilisi Cup last week.”
Just two uncapped players make the initial squad with Leinster duo Tadgh Furlong and Jack Conan included among the forwards.
Munster outside-half Ian Keatley, who was the top points scorer in the Guinness PRO12 this season, is a surprise omission with Ulster’s Paddy Jackson and versatile Leinster back Ian Madigan chosen as Sexton’s understudies.
Other players to miss out on selection include Munster prop James Cronin, Leinster lock Mike McCarthy, Connacht props Nathan White and Denis Buckley, and Ulster centre Stuart McCloskey.
Captained by Paul O’Connell for the final time ahead of his international retirement and move to Toulon, the squad will begin preparations at their Carton House HQ on Sunday.
As part of their preparations as Ireland look to get beyond the semi-finals for the first time, the squad will host three open training sessions across the country as well as four warm-up matches.
The first will take place at the Sportsground in Galway on Tuesday 14 July with a second in Cork on Wednesday 29 July.
Ireland begin their warm-up matches with a trip to the Millennium Stadium to face Wales on Saturday 8 August, before returning home for the Guinness Summer Series.
Scotland will be the opposition at the Aviva Stadium on 15 August before Wales head to Dublin on 29 August.
Schmidt will then name his 31-man Rugby World Cup squad before 31 August ahead of a final warm-up match against England at Twickenham on Saturday 5 September.
A final open training session will take place at the RDS Arena Dublin on Tuesday 8 September before Ireland fly out to their first training base in Newport ahead of their opening Rugby World Cup match against Canada at the Millennium Stadium.
Currently third in the World Rugby rankings, Ireland face Six Nations rivals France and Italy, as well as Canada and Romania in Pool D.
Ireland training squad (45):
Forwards (23): Rory Best (Ulster), Michael Bent (Leinster), Jack Conan (Leinster), Sean Cronin (Leinster), Tadgh Furlong (Leinster), Cian Healy (Leinster), Jamie Heaslip (Leinster), Iain Henderson (Ulster), Chris Henry (Ulster), Rob Herring (Ulster), Dave Kilcoyne (Munster), Jack McGrath (Leinster), Marty Moore (Leinster), Jordi Murphy (Leinster), Sean O’Brien (Leinster), Paul O’Connell (Toulon, captain), Tommy O’Donnell (Munster), Peter O’Mahony (Munster), Mike Ross (Leinster), Donnacha Ryan (Munster), Richardt Strauss (Leinster), Devin Toner (Leinster), Dan Tuohy (Ulster).
Backs (22): Isaac Boss (Leinster), Tommy Bowe (Ulster), Darren Cave (Ulster), Gordon D’Arcy, Keith Earls (Munster), Luke Fitzgerald (Leinster), Craig Gilroy (Ulster), Robbie Henshaw (Connacht), Paddy Jackson (Ulster), Felix Jones (Munster), Dave Kearney (Leinster), Rob Kearney (Leinster), Ian Madigan (Leinster), Kieran Marmion (Connacht), Fergus McFadden (Leinster), Conor Murray (Munster), Jared Payne (Ulster), Eoin Reddan (Leinster), Noel Reid (Leinster), Johnny Sexton (Leinster), Andrew Trimble (Ulster), Simon Zebo (Munster).