An exciting Ireland XV that would offer World Cup hope to outside bets
Ireland face Italy at the Aviva Stadium on Saturday, August 10 and Joe Schmidt is expected to name his World Cup squad soon after.
The 31-man Ireland squad will be known in about three weeks' time but there are still some big decisions to be made.
Ahead of the 1991 World Cup, Donal Lenihan arranged a get-together for a run-out at the back pitch of the old Lansdowne Road. Lenihan and his Irish teammates - the ones that could get away from work - went up against club players cobbled together from a few Dublin sides. That was the extent of their warm-up.
Since the game went professional in 1995, there was been a bit more time in the diary for warm-up games. Four Test matches is now the norm. As much as it provides coaches an opportunity to get their players up to speed, it gives home unions a chance to get punters through the gate and make up for revenue that will be lost with no November Tests.
Ireland have trained with a 44-man squad for most of the summer, with Ulster's Will Addison also drafted in after he made a successful return from a back injury. Jean Kleyn and Mike Haley of Munster are the two uncapped inclusions.
Conor O'Shea's side provide the first opponents of Ireland's four-match run before they fly out to Japan on September 9. O'Shea will finalise his squad after their August 17 game against Russia while Schmidt should reveal his 31-man selection after the August 24 date with England, at Twickenham.
The fortnight gap between the first two games means that players could easily feature against both Italy and England. We would expect Schmidt to pick two very different XVs for the games as they will be final chances for players to tie down spots and others to stake a claim.
This is the starting XV we feel could see off Italy while affording Schmidt with a chance to test out new combinations and decide on a couple of players. Our thinking is that Schmidt will go big for the England game and the September 7 meeting with Six Nations champions Wales, in Dublin.
Our Ireland XV to face Italy
1. Jack McGrath (Ulster)
2. Niall Scannell (Munster)
3. Finlay Bealham (Connacht)
4. Tadhg Beirne (Munster)
5. Jean Kleyn (Munster)
6. Rhys Ruddock (Leinster)
7. Jordi Murphy (Ulster)
8. Jack Conan (Leinster)
9. Kieran Marmion (Connacht)
10. Joey Carbery (Munster)
11. Dave Kearney (Leinster)
12. Rory Scannell (Munster)
13. Chris Farrell (Munster)
14. Andrew Conway (Munster)
15. Will Addison (Ulster)
Schmidt could stack his bench with the likes of Rory Best, CJ Stander, Conor Murray, Keith Earls and Jacob Stockdale and let the outside bets get their shot at earning those last two or three undecided spots in the squad. Haley, Ross Byrne, John Cooney, Tommy O'Donnell and Ultan Dillane will all be itching for involvement too.
Putting out his big guns on August 10 for a competition that ends on November 2 may be a stretch, but don't be surprised if Schmidt does sprinkle in a few familiar faces. Winning all four matches is not imperative, in the grander scheme, but Ireland would like some winning momentum on their ay to Japan, especially after the sour Six Nations ending.