Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt will adopt a “forensic” approach to selection of his World Cup squad.
Schmidt is closing in on settling the 31-man group that will carry Irish hopes into next month’s tournament, when many pundits expect the reigning RBS 6 Nations champions to achieve a minimum semi-final target.
Ireland have never progressed beyond the last-eight stage in all seven previous World Cups, but that could all change this time around.
Schmidt saw his players slip to a 16-10 home defeat against Wales in their penultimate warm-up game on Saturday, and individual performances will now be closely assessed before Ireland’s World Cup squad is announced.
“We’ve only had three match windows with the team, so it (Saturday) is very important because we’ve had eight or nine weeks of training to have a look at players, and those big windows are probably the litmus test,” he said.
“So we will try to be as forensic as we can be in looking back through that and determining what we can improve as a collective and isolating each individual performance as best we can to see how we differentiate between players that are very similar.”
Schmidt saw Munster back Keith Earls carried off during the Wales game, while there was also the usual array of bumps and bruises collected from a match high on intensity, even if quality often proved lacking.
“Obviously, Keith’s (injury) was a real concern to us, and we will get him fully checked out because that’s what being stretchered off demands,” Schmidt added.
“You’ve got to make sure that everything is 100 per cent. Having had a discussion with him briefly after the game, he was totally lucid, and he remembered his involvements in the game, so there’s a couple of promising signs, I guess.”
Asked if injuries might delay the World Cup selection debate, Schmidt said: “It’s a bit of a Catch 22.
“We need to get into camp and we need to start working, so players need to get sufficient notice of going back into camp and rolling their sleeves up again to go forward.
“And at the same time I think guys who are going back to their provincial environments, they need to be given enough time to make sure that they get in and get the opportunity to play well because the players that don’t get selected, they could be really important to us.”
Ireland will conclude their World Cup preparations by facing England at Twickenham next Saturday, and Schmidt added: “The starting XV won’t be the same as it was (against Wales), but I would say there will be some consistency as well.”
“We need to get some cohesion. We certainly ran out of width in our attack, although we could have scored twice in the opening 10 minutes with some pretty good width in our attack.
“But, when you don’t convert those early opportunities and concede a penalty count of 6-0, then you are bound to come under pressure. We will try to balance those selections and see how we go.
“I would say we are going to really be on our mettle going into the England game, and if we do keep a bit of consistency in our selection then it will allow us a bit more of a stepping-stone.”