Ireland’s fringe players will be using the World Cup warm-up game against Italy as an audition for Joe Schmidt’s final squad.
Speaking on OTB AM, Mike McCarthy said that the players who take to the field against the Azzuri will be treating the game as a trial match to book their place on the plane to Japan.
“I look at that matchday 23 and I probably think there’s only five or six lads who are guaranteed to go on the plane. Those five or six guys could afford to have an average game and still be on the plane,” McCarthy said.
Cian Healy, Iain Henderson, Dev Toner, Joey Carbery, Jordan Larmour and Gary Ringrose are the players that the former Ireland international named as those who would be sure of their place in Schmidt’s final squad.
“[For] the rest, the door is still slightly open but it’s closing pretty fast. So there’s a lot of guys who need to put a marker down,” the former Leinster man added.
Going through a World Cup preseason was a gruelling experience for McCarthy. He had to endure it before the 2011 edition of the tournament and said the players going through it now would be “in a dark place.”
“They’ve done the five weeks of blood, sweat and tears - getting absolutely flogged with no game at the end of it. It’s a dark place.
“It’s certainly not nice when you do all that hard work and graft and get called into a meeting in Carton House to be told, ‘unfortunately you’re not going to the World Cup,’” he said.
For any players to make the leap and win a plae in the final 31, they must be versatile and adaptable.
Four players he singled out as playing for their places on the plane to Japan are Rhys Ruddock, Tadhg Beirne, Iain Henderson and newly qualified South African Jean Kleyn.
“I think it’s a shootout between him [Kleyn] and Tadhg Beirne for that place on the plane [...] Henderson has performed, he’s got a lot of miles on the clock and unless he has a shocker he’s a dead cert to be on the plane,” Mike McCarthy said.