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Joe Schmidt is keeping the door open for World hopefuls

By Ruaidhri O'Connor

Joe Schmidt was back where he is happiest yesterday - on the pitch, drilling his team ahead of their final game of a successful campaign, against the Barbarians.

Off-field matters dominated the agenda at the subsequent press conference in the Thomond Park president's suite, with the Ireland coach fielding questions on Matt O'Connor's departure and his own future as he said discussions on a new contract will begin in the weeks to come.

However, the politicking takes a back seat this evening as the Six Nations champions begin the transition from 2014/15 to the World Cup preparations in Limerick. Shorn of his Munster and Connacht contingent as well as the otherwise engaged Jonny Sexton, Schmidt has named a Leinster/Ulster composite team to take on the invitation side in a game that is struggling to capture the public imagination in the south-west.

There are a few objectives of this questionable exercise for the Ireland coach, who will be praying he comes through the weekend unscathed in terms of injury.

The first objective is to ensure all of Ireland's players finish the season in similar condition and at the same time, while it also gives Schmidt a chance to reintegrate the likes of Dave Kearney, Luke Marshall, Craig Gilroy, Dan Tuohy and Chris Henry.

The decision to pick Ian Madigan ahead of Paddy Jackson was put down to the Ulsterman's recent heavy workload, but affords the Leinster star a rare chance in his preferred position.

Marshall is given the nod ahead of in-form Ulster team-mate Stuart McCloskey, but Schmidt will cast his eye over the latter and several others when they travel to Georgia to play for Emerging Ireland next month.

While the perception may be that most of the places in Schmidt's World Cup squad are already assigned to an experienced player with an impressive recent medal haul, the coach insists that the door remains open for those looking to impress.

He will name an extended squad early next month, but doesn't have to finalise his 31-man tournament panel until September.

"We have probably been tracking around as many as 44 names at the moment," he said.

"We think the Emerging tour will probably throw up another three to six names and that is a challenge for the 'Emerging' tourists; and there might be a couple of guys who get ruled out of that 44 and we might end up with 48 or we might end up with 46 or 50.

"That is the way I prefer it, to keep it quite fluid.

"We're coming to the end of the season, there is two games left effectively and then there are the games during the Emerging tour and at the end of that we will know who is fit and available."

Ireland: Rob Kearney (Leinster); Dave Kearney (Leinster), Colm O'Shea (Leinster), Luke Marshall (Ulster), Craig Gilroy (Ulster); Ian Madigan (Leinster), Eoin Reddan (Leinster); Jack McGrath (Leinster), Richardt Strauss (Leinster), Tadhg Furlong (Leinster); Dan Tuohy (Ulster), Devin Toner (Leinster); Robbie Diack (Ulster), Chris Henry (Ulster), Jamie Heaslip (Leinster).

Replacements: Rob Herring (Ulster), Michael Bent (Leinster), Mike Ross (Leinster), Ben Marshall (Leinster), Jordi Murphy (Leinster), Luke McGrath (Leinster), Paddy Jackson (Ulster), Cian Kelleher (Leinster).



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