Ireland are creeping ever-closer to their final 31-man World Cup squad.
Last week, the original 45-man squad was reduced to 43 when Rory Scannell and Ultan Dillane returned to Munster and Connacht, respectively.
Joe Schmidt’s side then played their first warm-up game of the summer on Saturday which saw a 29-10 victory over Italy.
On Wednesday, Schmidt reduced the squad further as three players were released back to their provinces. Mike Haley, who made his international debut as a replacement on Saturday, Finlay Bealham and John Cooney were the unlucky trio as they now reintegrate back into preseason preparations with Munster, Connacht and Ulster.
40 players have now travelled to Portugal for a warm-weather training camp before Ireland’s next game which is against England on Saturday, August 24.
Everyone in the squad will no doubt be desperate to put their best foot forward over the coming weeks so to give themselves the best opportunity of making the final selection.
One position which is perhaps the most competitive is Ireland’s back-row.
After a disappointing Six Nations campaign, Schmidt may be tempted to try out some new combinations and one man who could stake a claim in a new-look back-row is Leinster’s Jack Conan.
The 27-year-old has been in superb form this season and many are calling for him to get a starting spot at number eight ahead of CJ Stander.
One man with plenty of experience in this position is former Ireland international Jamie Heaslip. With 95 caps to his name, Heaslip knows more than most about the rigours of the back of the scrum and he believes Conan should be ahead of Stander in the pecking order.
“I’ll start at number eight,” Heaslip replied when asked to pick his Ireland back-row.
“I would go with Jack Conan. I just think Jack is the in-form number eight. Nothing against CJ, really good player, carries really well and had a very good season last year, actually. I just think Jack has got oodles of power, oodles of skill, amazing footwork. For a big man, he’s like a ballerina on his feet. Such agility, he’s so bloody strong on both sides of the ball and he has a really good footballing brain.
“That’s why I kind of lean towards him (Conan). I’m not saying CJ doesn’t have any of them, CJ is just a very different player to Jack. But then what do you do at six? I don’t even know where to start at six. CJ, Pete (O’Mahony) Rhys (Ruddock), Jordi (Murphy), you know what I mean? At seven, do you go with Josh (Van der Flier), do you go with Jordi? It’s hard. I’m going to say Jack Conan and leave it at that.”
Pictured at the unveiling of “Liberty Fields”, Guinness’ new 5-minute documentary and TV advert, in the Guinness Open Gate Brewery are former Irish International Rugby Player and Chair of Sport Ireland’s Women in Sport Committee, Lynne Cantwell, former Irish International Rugby Player, Jamie Heaslip and RTE producer Elaine Buckley.