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Joe Schmidt will roll the dice in bid to win Rugby World Cup

By Jonathan Bradley

For all the talk of Ireland playing risk-free rugby during the tenure of Joe Schmidt, the head coach doesn't seem averse to taking a chance when it comes to the selection of his World Cup squad.

With a 31-man panel set to be officially unveiled at lunchtime today, and expected to include just two scrum-halves and five props, it is believed that the Kiwi's willingness to gamble will benefit Ulster's Darren Cave who will travel at the expense of his former provincial team-mate Isaac Boss.

The 28-year-old, whose inclusion would also appear to end the storied international career of Gordon D'Arcy, will be one of seven Ulstermen on the plane with Rory Best, Chris Henry, Jared Payne, Iain Henderson, Tommy Bowe and Paddy Jackson also set to be named.

Their fellow Ulsterman Andrew Trimble, however, looks set to miss out.

Cave, who did not feature for Ulster or Ireland last week as he attended his brother's wedding, once opined in this paper that "sometimes you wonder does the face not fit" when it came to his international selection but it seems he has been rewarded for his consistency at club level and an impressive outing in the warm-up Test with Wales three weeks ago.

Capable of offering cover at both inside and outside centre, Cave gives Schmidt increased midfield options but Boss' absence means that he will take only two specialised scrum-halves and could leave the back-to-back Six Nations champions with a difficult decision to make further down the line.

With 48 hours required before a replacement can be called upon, Ireland would run the risk of being without cover in a key position should injury strike in the days before a game, although Ian Madigan is believed to be the emergency No 9 should disaster befall Conor Murray and Eoin Reddan.

With the influential Cian Healy having not played since May following neck surgery, opting to take only one other loosehead in the shape of Jack McGrath would, however, perhaps represent the biggest shock of all.

It had been expected that Michael Bent would be included as the fifth prop in the travelling party given his ability to cover both sides of the scrum.

However, with Marty Moore's foot injury still causing consternation, it is believed that Schmidt will instead bring Nathan White, the native Kiwi who has only two caps to his name, and last weekend's debutant Tadhg Furlong as cover for experienced tighthead Mike Ross.

Schmidt's new-found predilection for a gamble will not extend to winger Trimble's ailing foot, however.

Trimble, who starred in the 2014 Six Nations and won Ireland's Player of the Year for that season, first suffered toe ligament damage last October in a PRO12 contest with Glasgow.

He was expected to return in the spring but a setback in his rehabilitation ensured that he missed both the Six Nations and the remainder of Ulster's season.

The 30-year-old - who played for Ireland in both the 2007 and 2011 tournaments - made his first appearance in over nine months against Wales last month and, despite making a notable impact, could not last more than 35 minutes as he was substituted before half-time.

The injury was not thought to be serious, and he started and scored in Ulster's pre-season defeat to Edinburgh last weekend, but Schmidt voiced his concern over the Coleraine man's lack of game-time last Thursday and the tournament appears to have come too soon for the 58-times capped wing.

It will be a bitter blow for a player who battled hard to regain fitness and one who surely would have been included if he had been able to convince Schmidt that he was firing on all cylinders.

Despite the fact that he will turn 35 during the 2019 tournament in Japan, he will not, however, be giving up on his dream of adding to his seven World Cup appearances.

Recalling the similar disappointment endured by his Ulster captain Rory Best - the hooker was initially left out of the British and Irish Lions touring party to Australia in 2013 before Dylan Hartley's suspension - Trimble will know that while he wouldn't wish the misfortune on a fellow professional, he is only an injury away from being required once again.

When Best's Lions dream appeared over, he was embraced by his home crowd and Trimble can expect similar support should he feature in Ulster's PRO12 opener against the Ospreys on Friday.

Prove his sharpness and, with England set to provide Ireland with a physical test on Saturday, you just never know.

Belfast Telegraph


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