Trimble's injury scuppered his World Cup hopes, says Ireland chief Schmidt
Andrew Trimble came so close to forcing his way into Joe Schmidt's World Cup squad that he was set to be included as late as Sunday evening.
As the coaches sat down to a six-hour selection meeting the day after the defeat to Wales, the Ulster wing's name was included in several different drafts of the squad but ultimately his lack of match-practice counted against him.
Speaking at Carton House yesterday, Ireland head coach Schmidt revealed: "If it wasn't the big call being Andrew Trimble it would have been the big call being somebody else in the back-three. I know that was probably the most discussed position.
"I think we spent six hours on Sunday. For some of those hours Andrew Trimble was coming to the World Cup with us and some of them he wasn't.
"That's how tight it was. Andrew Trimble, Felix Jones and Fergus McFadden.
"Those three players probably appeared on the list as often as they didn't and at the end of the day, it was the balance that we went for with the 31 that we selected."
Trimble has played just under three halves of rugby since October thanks to a persistent foot injury that flared up again during Ireland's victory over Wales three weeks ago.
Despite lasting the full 80 for Ulster during their pre-season defeat to Edinburgh last Friday, Schmidt said that Trimble just hadn't had the time to prove his fitness.
"The difficulty was that Andrew played 34 minutes of a Test match, he played 80 minutes for Ulster, but in between that he hurt the foot again.
"It just interrupted his opportunity to best press for selection.
"Time ran out for him. Certainly ability, commitment and what he's contributed when he has played with us counted for him.
"That's why it was one of the very, very difficult decisions that we made."
Schmidt admitted that phoning the players who did not make the final cut was a testing experience, though he praised Trimble's reaction to the news.
"He's a great fella," said the former Leinster coach.
"He's very disappointed but he's keen to keep working.
"There's a number of players who are in that situation and unfortunately you get to establish pretty strong relationships with these players because we work so hard and so closely with them.
"It's disappointing for us, as well as for them, but it's the brutal reality of what we have to do."
With what is sure to be an attritional Test against England to come this weekend, Schmidt expects injuries to play their part in the build-up to the tournament and believes those he has left on stand-by can still make a significant impact.
"It was difficult to have that conversation with them but it's incredibly encouraging for me, being the one making the phone call, how positive they were (saying) 'I'm going to keep making decisions difficult for you, I'm going to keep working and I want to be involved in the future, the very short-term future.'
"With a game against England, who are looking to rebound from a performance that they wouldn't have been happy with in France, we know that with the nature of the game some of those guys could be involved from the very start of the tournament.
"We certainly hope we get through with a clean bill of health so that we get some continuity and momentum but if it was those guys coming in, it's a little bit of a security blanket knowing the quality of them."
While it was bad news for Trimble on Sunday, his long-time Ulster teammate Darren Cave was one of the select 31 who received an email shortly after 10pm confirming their place in the squad.
The 28-year-old has won nine caps in a disjointed international career but, able to cover both 12 and 13, Schmidt appreciates his versatility and was impressed by his try-scoring display against Wales last month.
"I think again with the midfield situation that we have, we feel like we've got enough cover.
"I think Robbie (Henshaw) hadn't played 12 until he came into this environment. Jared (Payne) had played more fullback than 13, Robbie had played more fullback than 13 probably in recent years, so that's a little bit manufactured for us.
"We wanted one specialist midfielder in there who could play 12 or 13.
"His (Cave's) flexibility and positivity in the environment are real pluses for us."
Schmidt added: "Darren's performances meant that he was a pretty deserving player to be involved."