Ireland have had 45 players in camp for the majority of the summer but that was reduced to 43 on Monday with the news that Munster’s Rory Scannell and Connacht’s Ultan Dillane were released back to their provinces.
Of course, only 31 players can travel to Japan and although it may seem ruthless that the duo were cut from proceedings without getting the opportunity to feature in a warm-up game, it’s a necessary, if unenviable task according to scrum coach Greg Feek.
“We’ve released them and we had quite a big squad,” Feek said. “You’ve got to start making some calls, and not just for the team’s sake, but for their sake as well. We had six locks with Ultan and a number of inside backs there as well.
“Unfortunately, Scans and Ultan had to come back [to their provinces]. They did really well. With the forwards, Ultan was looking physically even better, the best I’ve seen him in a while. These are the tough calls we’ve to start making and that was really tough.”
Feek admits that the fact they released the likes of Scannell and Dillane just shows the depth of quality the Ireland coaching staff have at their disposal in these positions.
But such a move will have no doubt sent a timely and blunt reminder to the remaining 43 players that ‘decision time’ is around the corner with the opening warm-up game taking place at the Aviva Stadium on Saturday against Italy.
Luke McGrath and Chris Farrell, who are both in very competitive positions within the squad, know too well that they will have to perform if they are called upon this weekend.
“It was obviously very difficult for the lads and the harsh reality is that only 31 can go to Japan,” McGrath said.
“These upcoming games are opportunities for us all. It’s a time for all of us to put our hand up and see how we go. It was tough for the two lads but it’s going to be tough for more lads throughout the next few weeks. It’s just important to put your hand up when you can.”
Farrell echoed his international colleague’s sentiment:
“It’s been really tough for those lads because they’ve put six weeks of as hard of training down as us and they’ve tried to put their best foot forward as much as they could.
“For us, it’s just about taking every opportunity we have now, whether that be in training tomorrow or in training on Thursday or Friday. Whether that be in the game this weekend, some lads won’t get that opportunity this weekend.
“If you’re lucky enough to get that opportunity this weekend, you’ve got the first one and you can make a statement to Joe and the coaches.”
Ireland take on Italy this Saturday (KO 2 pm) and the team will be announced on Thursday afternoon.