Stuart McCloskey's involvement against Samoa on Saturday could spell the end of Jacob Stockdale's World Cup dream, according to Irish legend Brian O'Driscoll.
Andy Farrell needs to cut a further five players from his Ireland squad before he names his 33 man side that will tackle the world in France in September.
While there are fewer places up for grabs as there are players in with a shout of filling those spaces, Brian O'Driscoll has felt for a while that one of Keith Earls, Jacob Stockdale and Stuart McCloskey would be one of the unlucky names on the chopping block.
However, with Earls shining in his 100th cap against England, and McCloskey being given his second start in three matches for Ireland, the writing appears to be on the wall for Stockdale.
McCloskey to take the fourth centre slot
Speaking on Off The Ball, Ireland legend Brian O'Driscoll suggested that there could be four specialised centres on the plane to France.
"There were questions around how many centres were they going to take?" O'Driscoll said. "By the looks of it now, Stuart getting two starts in three games, it would lead you to believe that he's very possibly going to be one of four centres that are going to go.
"In conversation with some of my old teammates, we were wondering whether it was two-of-three of [Keith] Earls, McCloskey and [Jacob] Stockdale. I still think that might be the case.
"Looking at this, Jacob Stockdale is going to miss out. The fact that Stuart McCloskey is playing one and three would lead you to believe that he's now going to be involved."
Many, including O'Driscoll for a time, felt that the likes of a Jimmy O'Brien or Earls could fill the emergency centre slot, should one of Bundee Aki, Robbie Henshaw or Garry Ringrose get injured.
However, Henshaw in particular has not had the best run when it comes to injuries. This has made O'Driscoll rethink just taking three specialised centres, as a fourth would add the security needed to cover Henshaw.
"Robbie has been, not to the same degree as [Ronán] Kelleher, in and out of games, he's had a number of injuries," O'Driscoll said. "So, maybe you just need an extra bit of security cover at centre, considering the injury profile of some guys."
Monday does not spell the end for Stockdale's World Cup hopes
While he believes Stockdale will not be named in the initital 33-player squad, O'Driscoll does not think that necessarily means Stockdale will not feature in France.
"Maybe there are still questions and concerns about his defence," O'Driscoll said. "But, it wouldn't be beyond possibility that, if you had an injury to one of the starters in James Lowe or Mack Hansen, he could come in and maybe leapfrog over those that were there and come in.
"A good piece of touring and World Cup squads is around happiness, around the energy you bring, and that is where Keith Earls is going to win."
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