Ireland captain Rory Best and Jacob Stockdale are both vulnerable of losing their starting places ahead of the Rugby World Cup, according to former international Alan Quinlan.
Having been steadfastly supported by Joe Schmidt during past criticisms, Best's performances in the Six Nations and against England in Twickenham on Saturday has left the Ulsterman in danger of falling down the pecking order as Ireland's starting hooker, Quinlan said on Monday's OTB AM.
Quinlan also highlighted Jacob Stockdale and the whole back row as having put their positions in jeopardy just over three weeks out from the World Cup.
Ireland were beaten by 42 points at Twickenham on Saturday with lineouts one of several recurring weak links in the Irish gameplan. Quinlan explained that the number of failings at set-pieces meant Best's starting position in the team was "under pressure".
"I think it's not being disrespectful to any of the players at this stage to say that they are vulnerable," Quinlan noted.
"I don't think that based on Saturday's performance you are going to scratch names off a list, but if they don't perform very quickly these guys have made themselves very vulnerable. The back row, Jacob Stockdale, Rory Best."
While Quinlan noted the importance of loyalty and that the players who disappointed will get the opportunity to rectify their form, he also said that Schmidt will not make the "mistake" of picking underperformers solely on loyalty.
"I don't think he is going to do that", Quinlan commented. "I think loyalty in 2007, – and hindsight is a great thing – where Eddie [O'Sullivan] was very loyal to people, that is not going to come into play here."
Quinlan added that the performances of all three in the back row – Peter O'Mahony, Josh Van der Flier and Cj Stander – has opened the door to those waiting to get into the team.
"So, I think they are under pressure," Quinlan said.
"Rhys Ruddock will want to get an opportunity, Jack Conan will want to get an opportunity and say I want to be on that plane and be in that team.
"Look, at the end of the day, there are some players who may not have a load of matches played come the end of it, like Sexton. He will be involved in the next few weeks. Carbery is not going to play a lot, but those are top quality guys who have delivered."