Ireland captain Best calls for expanded World Cup squads

IRELAND CAPTAIN RORY Best says a 31-man World Cup squad will put severe limitations on teams ahead of this year’s global tournament, while presenting headaches for coaches in Japan.

Joe Schmidt last week named his extended 44-man training panel for the start of Ireland’s preparations, but the head coach must begin the process of whittling that down to 31 before the 8 September deadline. 

Best will retire at the end of the World Cup. Source: Brian Lawless

Both Schmidt and Ireland fitness coach Jason Cowman have previously raised concerns over the number of players teams are permitted to bring to Japan by World Rugby, particularly when injuries are bound to play a major part over the course of an intensive tournament.

“We have a six-day turnaround between Scotland and Japan and then five between Japan to Russia,” Best says. “You get an injury that maybe takes you out for two games but not the entire tournament. If you get a couple of those you have to make fairly harsh decisions when it is actually not right as the player could be back for Samoa [Ireland’s fourth pool game].

“I’d be more inclined to increase the squad size to 35 players. The problem with 31 is by the time you name three hookers and three nines there are positions you are really short on.

“There is a back row/second row type player who will have to cover both but at a World Cup you shouldn’t have to have makeshift people in there. It should be: this is our best squad. 35 players would give you that luxury.”

Best used the example of the injuries to Sean O’Brien and Dan Leavy to point out how quickly the selection picture can change, with both opensides already ruled out of the tournament before Ireland convene at Carton House on Sunday week.

From a position of real strength, Schmidt’s back row options are suddenly a lot thinner on the ground with the return to fitness of Josh van der Flier a welcome boost, while Jordi Murphy, Tommy O’Donnell and Rhys Ruddock have been named in the 44-man panel.

“It’s amazing how you get areas that look really, really strong and you’re going ‘How are you going to leave one of those out?,” Best continued. 

Best was in Dublin this week coaching the Emerald Warriors. Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

“Then you get a couple of injuries. The back row now with Dan [Leavy] and Sean O’Brien, it all of a sudden looks a lot thinner than it maybe it did 12 months.

“The second row, you were going into the Six Nations saying ‘Oh, which second row are they not going to pick?’ Then going into the Scotland game it was like ‘Well, who do I have left?’

“That’s going to be the scenario and you have just got to hope that there is enough people with experience over the last four years that if you get down to the New Zealand out-half scenario [in 2011 when they lost three out-halves to injury] , that if you’re pulling someone off a boat fishing… at least Stephen Donald had played a bit.”

In that sense, the likes of Stuart McCloskey — initially overlooked for the World Cup — will need to keep his phone closeby over the summer holidays.

“Even you take someone like Stuart McCloskey who isn’t in the squad,” Best adds.

“It’s really important that those guys get their head around the fact that there are five centres in the squad.

“To get five centres through four games in the summer and whatever games in the World Cup, without getting any injuries, it’s going to be highly unlikely.”

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