Ireland coach Joe Schmidt insists he has not yet made any hard and fast cuts to his World Cup training squad, despite discarding three players this week.
Rob Herring and Noel Reid left Ireland’s training camp earlier this week, and will feature in the Ulster-Leinster pre-season clash on Friday, August 21.
Scrum-half Kieran Marmion has now been released too, to appear in Connacht’s pre-season battle against Castres on Friday night..
Schmidt is adamant all three players have not been jettisoned entirely from his World Cup plans but, to all intents and purposes, barring injury they all look surplus to requirements.
“Technically they’re not here but they haven’t left the squad,” said Schmidt of Herring, Reid and Marmion. “I’m still in contact with them.
“I know that Noel (Reid) is preparing to play next weekend, against Rob Herring in the Leinster-Ulster clash.
“And Kieran Marmion is down to play off the bench against Castres this weekend, and again it’s because we need players to be match-fit.
“If we can’t provide all the games for them then next Friday and Saturday gives us a really good window.”
Ireland host Scotland in Dublin on Saturday (5pm), with flanker Jack Conan making his Test debut and Sean O’Brien captaining the side from number eight.
Some seven starters will be battling hard for their World Cup futures this weekend, but Schmidt continues to keep his squad, and everyone else, guessing.
“We knew that those guys weren’t going to be involved in this week but it doesn’t necessarily mean they won’t be involved in the Welsh week,” said Schmidt.
“Obviously the guys who are involved this week get a chance at a higher level and therefore that’s an advantage over the players who play for their provinces this and next weekend.
“But I’ve no doubt the level will be pretty high in those inter-provincials anyway.”
Assistant coach Richie Murphy did not suggest that either Herring or Reid would be returning when confirming on Tuesday that both had left Ireland’s camp.
Head coach Schmidt has been at pains to keep his training squad as wide as possible however, and moved to clarify the situation around World Cup selection calls.
Ireland must name their final 31-man World Cup squad on August 31, just days before their final warm-up match against England at Twickenham on September 5.
Schmidt plans to hold lengthy selection meetings next week, given Ireland are not in Test action next weekend.
“We haven’t really whittled the squad down,” said Schmidt.
“We’re just trying to get game-time for everyone at the moment.
“This will give us a pause post the Scotland match to get the coaches together, and instead of whittling down we’ll be counting up ways to 31.
“That will make some very hard decisions that will no doubt take some time, and if we can get to 31 then extend that to 36 we’ll have a better idea.
“And you’ll have a better idea when we probably pick the squad to play Wales the following week because the day after that we’ve got to make further decisions.”
Schmidt hopes Andrew Trimble’s foot sprain will not end his World Cup hopes, expecting the Ulster wing to be fit to face Wales on Saturday, August 29.
Ireland’s Kiwi boss said tighthead prop Marty Moore was “probably” ready for action this weekend, but the coaches decided not to take any risks.
“Marty was probably fit to play but probably didn’t fit too well with us,” said Schmidt.
“He may play next week in the Leinster-Ulster game.”
IRELAND (v Scotland):
S Zebo (Munster); L Fitzgerald (Leinster), J Payne (Ulster), G D’Arcy (Leinster), T Bowe (Ulster); I Madigan, I Boss (both Leinster); D Kilcoyne (Munster), S Cronin, M Ross (both Leinster), D Tuohy (Ulster), D Toner, J Conan (both Leinster), C Henry (Ulster), S O’Brien (capt, Leinster).
Replacements: R Strauss, M Bent (both Leinster), N White (Connacht), P O’Connell (Munster), J Murphy, E Reddan (both Leinster), P Jackson (Ulster), D Kearney (Leinster).