It may have had the feel of a pre-season friendly, but Ireland’s 29-10 victory over Italy at the Aviva Stadium on Saturday was the start of the serious business as the countdown to the Rugby World Cup continues.
Naming an experimental side against the Italians, Ireland secured a routine victory over Conor O’Shea’s side, who too are building towards their challenge in Japan as well.
Joey Carbery, Dave Kearney, Andrew Conway, Jordi Murphy and Kieran Marmion all crossed as an experimental Ireland line-up secured a routine Aviva Stadium victory.Maxime Mbanda and Carlo Canna bagged first-half tries as Italy exploited Ireland's pre-season ring-rustiness.
Carbery was a major injury concern for the Irish, limping off after 49 minutes following an impressive display.
England will be Ireland’s next opponents in a fortnight - they were 33-19 winners over Wales - and Eddie Jones will name his 31-man squad today for the tournament which kicks off on September 21.
Schmidt trimmed his squad to 43 earlier this week when Ultan Dillane and Rory Scannel were cut, a reflection of the ruthlessness needed by the management as the hard decisions are made going forwards.
The Irish boss, who will stand down after the World Cup, admitted making the decision on who will board the plane to Japan is not one he is looking forward too and said of his tenure with Ireland, having to do it four years ago was probably one of the most difficult tasks he had to undertake.
“I know how much it means for players to want to play at a World Cup. It is for Ireland more than some other teams where we need to perform,” he said.
Asked if he fancied naming a 31-man squad today, Schmidt said: “I do not fancy it to be honest.”
“I think I could probably name certainly 20, maybe a few more, but the coaching staff we will meet tomorrow morning after having had a look at the game and have a chat about probably who we think is putting their foot forward in the best possible manner and also look at guys who were maybe chasing their tail and need to demonstrate a little bit more.
“If we think we do need to trim the squad a little bit, as harsh as it will be then collectively we will make those decisions, individually I will make contact with hopefully have time to meet with players, if not then it is that phone call they do not want to receive and I do not want to really deliver.”
Schmidt also believes a 31-man panel is not in keeping with the demands of the competition.
Ireland will launch their World Cup bid by taking on Scotland on September 22, before facing hosts Japan six days later - and Russia five days after that.
Schmidt believes high injury rates should lead to World Rugby extending squad limits.
"With 31 players, I think it's a very tight number that World Rugby limit you to," said Schmidt.
"They talk about player welfare, but we have a six-day turnaround into a five-day turnaround, and 31 players, it's very, very complicated.
"And all the teams, I'm not saying that's just tough for us. All the teams have tight turnarounds at stages."
Ireland could trim their current training squad of 43 before heading out for a warm-weather camp in Portugal on Wednesday.
Schmidt's men will remain in Portugal until jetting straight to London to take on England at Twickenham on Saturday, August 24.
"I think we'll probably travel (to Portugal) with about 40, but it could be 43, just depending on training numbers," said Schmidt.
"As you branch off with a smaller squad, just keeping those guys up to speed with what we're trying to develop, it becomes a little bit of a difficulty for us, especially if we pick up an injury.
"We're playing England, Wales and Wales (again), physically big teams, physically bigger than we are, therefore there tends to be a risk of attrition.
"So I don't want those other players to get too far away from us, because we want them up to speed if they do miss out on that 31 in the end."