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Joe Schmidt has dropped veteran lock Devin Toner from his Ireland Rugby World Cup squad after deciding to make the final 31-man team announcement six days early.
With the squad announcement initially planned for Sunday’s World Rugby deadline, the Irish Rugby Football Union brought forward the unveiling and submitted the full list of players on Monday morning – which appears to have been in response to the team being revealed in the Irish Independent at the start of the week.
The 33-year-old lock Toner is the most surprise omission, with South African-born Jean Kleyn selected ahead of the Leinster forward to join James Ryan, Iain Henderson and Tadhg Beirne.
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Schmidt has decided on a 17-14 split of forwards and backs, with a squad that will be captained by Rory Best in his fourth World Cup, yet sees more than half of those selected named in a World Cup squad for the first time.
One other standout decision sees Munster centre Chris Farrell preferred to Ulster back Will Addison, despite the latter’s strong showing against Wales last weekend, while Jack Carty beats Ross Byrne to selection to join Johnny Sexton and Joey Carbery as Schmidt’s fly-half options.
“It was a difficult thing right from the start to have the 45 that we had,” said Schmidt. “We went down to 40 players and to go from 40 down to 31 was really difficult, but we had a process whereby we looked back through every training, looked through the games.
“There were some guys who obviously had more experience and probably had more credit in the bank and were more established and there were other guys who were trying to force their way into group and trying to get a balance of current form versus previous performance, it’s always a very, very difficult conundrum to try to solve.
“It was one of those typical selection meetings where maybe 20-25 of the players are listed straight away and it’s those ones where you’re trying to get balance where it’s very difficult to choose between two players and two players offer slightly different things, and you’re trying then to narrow down and trying to get the best balance across the squad of the entire 31 because that’s part of what you need to do. You’ve got to make sure you have cover that’s immediate even though you can replace players because there is obviously a big time delay in that.”
Schmidt has settled on five props, with two looseheads in the form of Cian Healy and Dave Kilcoyne joined by tightheads Tadhg Furlong, Andrew Porter and John Ryan, while captain Best is named with Sean Cronin and Niall Scannell as hookers.
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