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Joe Schmidt hoping Ireland can take historic step into World Cup semis

By Ruaidhri O'Connor

Joe Schmidt is targeting a first World Cup semi-final in Ireland's history at this month's tournament after confirming his 31-man squad.

The New Zealander can now concentrate on leading his side after finalising the panel over the course of a six-hour meeting with his coaching staff on Sunday and delivering the news to the disappointed players who missed out over a series of emotional phone calls that night.

Expectations are high that the back-to-back Six Nations champions can go further than ever before and Schmidt knows that, if his squad of "quality contributors" deliver, then a place in the final four is within their grasp.

"I don't have any expectations of achievement. I have lots of hopes. I have an expectation we can work as hard as we can, that we will take it one game at a time because there are banana skins early on," he said.

"We have an expectation that we can stay focused on what's immediately in front of us, the coaches will cast their eye a little bit further. We want to try to get to that last four if we can. That's probably my hope. My expectation is a bit more pragmatic."

Cian Healy may return to action on Saturday. Schmidt is expected to name a strong side to face England after the World Cup hosts did likewise yesterday, pairing Brad Barritt and Jonathan Joseph in midfield and Chris Robshaw leading the side from the back-row.

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