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Chris Henry: Ireland stars can't have any regrets when the World Cup squad is revealed


Sizing up: Joe Schmidt will be looking for reasons to both include and cut players from his Ireland squad

Sizing up: Joe Schmidt will be looking for reasons to both include and cut players from his Ireland squad

©INPHO/Dan Sheridan

Sizing up: Joe Schmidt will be looking for reasons to both include and cut players from his Ireland squad

The World Cup wasn't really on my radar as 2015 began. Back then, I just wanted to know if I'd play rugby again.

But after making my comeback from a mini-stroke the previous year for Ulster in April, I realised that I had a chance to do something that every player dreams of doing.

I'd been on standby for 2011 in New Zealand, but it wasn't really a case of bitter disappointment when Declan Kidney announced his squad. I was still a one-cap wonder in those days and hadn't featured since my debut 12 months prior. Being among the small number of reserves placed me closer to the action than I'd thought. The pain came later when David Wallace got injured and I wasn't the one called in to replace him.

Four years later, I was determined to give myself the best chance of making the plane, working out what my point of difference could be.

It was, I decided, fitness.

I'd spend the break between the end of Ulster's campaign - ironically enough a PRO12 semi-final loss to Glasgow - and reporting to Carton House as a member of the wider squad in pre-season mode. Rather than a traditional holiday, it was off to Browns in Vilamoura, where we'd have spent a few gruelling summers with Ulster training away the holiday pounds in the Portuguese sun.

With my brother - a bit of a gym monkey - for company, and in surroundings that, if not quite Spartan, weren't exactly luxurious, we trained the days away and I went into Irish camp feeling in the best shape of my life both mentally and physically.

When the first fitness tests were scheduled for day one it was me and Rory Best, perhaps two players who could have been accused of carrying some extra timber over our careers, leading the way among the forwards.

You could tell who'd put the work in and who'd given themselves a mountain to climb. I've no doubt that Joe Schmidt could too.

The Irish coach will be making similar observations when those getting the call this week to be a part of the extended squad finally assemble to start the preparations.

There'll be boys knowing they're on the fringes, but injuries will happen and, as we've seen, Joe isn't a man who'll be clouded too much by sentiment when making the big decisions. The reality is, especially when you consider the centres and, even in the absence of Sean O'Brien, the back-row, that there are going to be quality players left behind.

The best thing anybody can do is make sure you don't give the coaches an excuse to leave you out.

While I knew I'd ensured there'd be no regrets on my end, making the squad was still no guarantee, and maybe I wouldn't have if Tommy O'Donnell hadn't suffered such a horrible injury in the warm-ups.

When you are sent home from Carton House for the final time, it's the longest weekend of your life.

We'd been told if we were in to expect an email on the Saturday. If the news was bad, it would be delivered by phone.

By Sunday, still nobody had heard. I'll never forget the nerves of that wait. Out on a boat in Donegal with my father-in-law, I was desperately checking my phone signal every 30 seconds or so.

When the email finally dropped, it was elation. It was a moment when all those sacrifices seemed worth it.

I don't know how I'd have reacted if Joe did to me what he'd done to Tommy Bowe. With all of us under the impression that to see Joe's number flashing up on your screen meant the dream was over, he'd rang Tommy to give him something of a scare, telling him he needed a big tournament from him as Andrew Trimble was being left behind.

As he always did, Tommy repaid the faith before a bad injury in the quarter-final. He and I were among the lucky ones. I always think back to those players who had to have their bags packed, ready to report for a tournament to which they wouldn't be going.

I certainly don't envy Joe this summer, that's for sure. Knowing what it means to the players, I'm sure no coach relishes weighing up such decisions.

Still, there's nobody Ireland would rather have making them.

Silver lining for O'Brien as Leinster prove they're PRO14's best

You have to take your hat off to Leinster, back-to-back Guinness PRO14 champions.

I, like a lot of people, thought that Glasgow, practically on home soil and in irresistible form, would have too much for them on the day.

The Warriors certainly didn't hit the same level as they did against Ulster eight days prior, but credit has to go to Leinster for their part in that.

They're a side that know how to win trophies and they have a tight-five that can force you into playing their type of game and not the other way around, something that's so important against sides like Glasgow.

Cian Healy and James Ryan are going to be huge for Ireland in the coming months and Scott Fardy really has been a super signing for them, exceeding expectations since his arrival from Australia.

Selfishly I'd have obviously loved Ulster to have another crack at them, or even Benetton in a one-off game to see what they could do, but you have to say Leo Cullen's men have proven they are still the best side that we have in this league.

To do what they did, amid consistent chatter that they weren't at the same level as last year, with Johnny Sexton in and out of the side and after the disappointment of the Champions Cup final, says so much about the winning culture they've created.

It was a nice moment for Sean O'Brien too to lift the trophy in his last action as a Leinster player.

He's been such a star for them and Ireland and I'm sure it's terribly sad for him not to be getting a playing send-off for either due to injury, and it'll be interesting to see what way Joe Schmidt goes for the World Cup now.

It wouldn't surprise me to see Josh van der Flier and Jack Conan in his starting team out in Japan, while CJ Stander and Peter O'Mahony are certs to travel. Joe has always been a big Rhys Ruddock fan and Jordi Murphy will be pressing his case too.

To lose Dan Leavy and Sean is undoubtedly a blow, but there's quality there to compensate for it.

It's still all uphill for me after the reunion success

The body is certainly feeling it today, but it was great craic to get the boots on again at the weekend for Rugby Rocks.

A part of my testimonial season, it was great to get so many old friends down to Malone and play a bit together again.

It's fair to say some had a bit more left in the tank than I was expecting and I have to say thanks to everyone that helped put the day together, whether playing or behind the scenes.

It was a great day and we managed to raise a good sum of money for NI Chest, Heart and Stroke too, obviously a cause that's very important to me.

While I wait for the body to recover, it's the start of a strange summer for me, the first one without a pre-season looming large for longer than I'd like to remember. If only I hadn't agreed to climb a mountain instead!

Again to raise money for Chest, Heart and Stroke, myself, Tommy Bowe and Mike McCarthy are climbing Mount Toubkal, all 4,167m of it, in two weeks' time. A training weekend in the Mournes was tough enough but I'm looking forward to getting to it now.

Taking on the reins at Malone next season is going to keep me busy throughout the summer too, and before we know it, it'll be time for the World Cup warm-ups.

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