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Schmidt faces major dilemma ahead of trimming Ireland squad

By Ruaidhri O'Connor

IT'S good to talk. Joe Schmidt and his management team have been chewing the fat on a daily basis at Carton House as they try to pick a 31-man squad to take on the world.

Yesterday, the coach carried out his first pre-match press conference of the new season after unveiling an experimental team to face Wales in Cardiff and gave some insight into the way he is thinking with three games to go before he has to submit his final panel.

Schmidt confirmed that he is planning on bringing 17 forwards and 14 backs to the World Cup, while he will cut seven or eight members of his squad over the course of the next week as the selection process steps up a notch.

The New Zealander re-iterated that not every one of the 46 players currently training at Carton House would be afforded an opportunity to impress, but said Cian Healy wouldn't necessarily have to play in one of the four warm-up games as long as he'll be able to take on Canada on September 19.

This weekend's visit to the Welsh capital will help inform his choices and those selected have been handed a glorious opportunity. As Schmidt said, some won't be so lucky.

Of the starting XV who claimed the Six Nations in Edinburgh last March, only captain Jamie Heaslip and stalwart Mike Ross are called into action from the start, with Rory Best on the bench.

That means a slew of front-liners will be integrated in the coming weeks, with the clash against Wales at home in three weeks' time likely to see a full-strength team.

"We're trying to individualise it," Schmidt explained. "Some guys played a lot last season so we've tried to give them a slightly longer pre-season.

"There will be an integration of different players week to week, certainly over the next two weeks and then we have to make decisions.

"You don't have to be a mathematician to know that with 46 players in camp we won't be changing the team completely week to week, therefore some players probably won't get an opportunity.

"But that's part of the pre-season, it has allowed us to get to know some players and for them to get an opportunity in the environment that hopefully will be an investment for the Six Nations."

However, nobody who is in Maynooth this week wants to use this period as a development opportunity and it is up to them to prove that they can do a job in the here and now.

By the end of the month, Schmidt will have to arrive at a final panel for the World Cup and it is clear that he is already consumed by the challenge.

"Daily," he said matter-of-factly when asked how often the final decision has been discussed between the backroom staff.

Crucially, however, he has come to a decision on the balance he wants to strike.

"It would probably lean itself towards a 17/14 (forwards/backs) split and that is as candid as I can be at the moment," he said.

"How that is split is difficult. There are players like Iain Henderson who I thought had a super finish to the season playing No 6... we have got him at No 4 at the weekend and you might see him in the loose trio as well because he is a player who can just give us a little bit more flexibility.

"I can tell you that each time we meet, the squad is slightly different.

"As often as not we probably muddy the waters rather than give ourselves a bit of clarity, but while we try to make some decisions based on how guys are training, the litmus test is getting them out in a Test match arena and seeing how they match up.

"We're hoping that we know a little bit more on Sunday and that we'll know a little bit more on Sunday week, and that then helps us make what we hope are pertinent decisions."

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