John Cooney offers Ireland a way to still include Joey Carbery
One suspects the toughest cuts will come in the Irish backline.
Ireland do not need to name their 31-man squad for another three and a half weeks. Whether Joey Carbery is included in that squad, or not, will be on a lot of minds over those coming days and weeks.
Sitting down to select Ireland's final 31-man squad - our take on it - and it all seems so simple. Until you add up the numbers.
At first crack, we had all the bases covered until we totted it up and arrived at 35. Then we recalled that Andrew Porter is being tasked with covering loose- and tight-head. Tough on John Ryan but Porter gets him to a spot and we're down to 34.
You realise that taking six back-rows is a luxury you can't afford, especially if the versatile Iain Henderson and Tadhg Beirne go as locks. It means we must choose between Rhys Ruddock and Jordi Murphy and, as much as we'd lean towards Ruddock, Joe Schmidt is likely to side with Murphy in that 50/50.
33 left so two cuts needed. We were left with a tough, nasty call - leave Chris Farrell or Andrew Conway out. Ultimately, with Schmidt able to put Bundee Aki, Robbie Henshaw, Garry Ringrose, Keith Earls and Jacob Stockdale in midfield, it meant Conway made the cut while Farrell did not. Down to 32.
The original plan - in its naive conception - was to select an Ireland squad with Joey Carbery [set to miss the remaining warm-up games after his ankle injury] AND three out-halves. Johnny Sexton, Jack Carty and Ross Byrne were all included until it became clear that other positions could buckle under the strain - the Samoa and Russia games will need fresh bodies.
The Irish out-half situation was discussed on the latest episode of Baz & Andrew's House of Rugby [from 33:00 below] with both Jerry Flannery and Andrew Trimble wading in on the matter.
"If Johnny starts one of the next three warm-up games," Trimble posited, "is that enough?" Flannery replied:
"No, I don't think so. He definitely needs two starts... Hopefully Joey is fit to play again in the warm-ups but if not, and in the mean-time, Sexton needs starts. Jack Carty can come off the bench. I'd imagine Carty is next in line [after Carbery]."
Both Flannery and Trimble are thinking along similar lines as ourselves - Carty going ahead of Byrne. With our squad at 32, it is close to impossible to go with an injured, rehabbing Carbery and just Sexton and Carty covering outhalf.
That is where Ulster's John Cooney comes into the picture. The 29-year-old has six Test caps to his name and could well feature in the next warm-up game against England, especially as Marmion and McGrath have both had run-outs.
Cooney played as both a scrumhalf and an outhalf while at Connacht and often stepped into that position, mid-game, for Ulster set-plays or finishing out games for the province.
It is a gamble, but most squad selections are. Ireland don't have to submit their final 31-man squad to World Rugby until September 8 and the Carbery situation now looks set to see Schmidt hold out until the last possible moment. He will know more on the Carbery situation by then.
If the Munster 10 looks to be making progress, he makes the squad even though he may miss the opening game, or two. In this scenario, Cooney goes as the third scrum-half and third out-half, and Luke McGrath misses out.
If Joey Carbery is still struggling or has had any set-backs, a hard call will have to be made and Ross Byrne gets drafted in.
OUR IRELAND SQUAD
Cian Healy, Dave Kilcoyne, Tadhg Furlong, Andrew Porter, Jack McGrath
Rory Best, Niall Scannell, Sean Cronin
James Ryan, Devin Toner, Iain Henderson, Tadhg Beirne
BACK ROW (5)
Peter O'Mahony, Josh van der Flier, CJ Stander, Jordi Murphy, Jack Conan
Conor Murray, Kieran Marmion, John Cooney
Johnny Sexton, Jack Carty, Joey Carbery
Robbie Henshaw, Garry Ringrose, Bundee Aki
BACK THREE (5)
Keith Earls, Jacob Stockdale, Jordan Larmour, Rob Kearney, Andrew Conway
YOU CAN WATCH THE FULL EPISODE HERE: