Brian O’Driscoll insists that Ireland lock Devin Toner’s World Cup omission “beggars belief”.
Former Ireland skipper O’Driscoll admitted to being left nonplussed by Joe Schmidt’s decision to select Munster’s Jean Kleyn ahead of lineout boss Toner.
Ireland named their 31-man World Cup squad on Monday, with 33-year-old Toner the glaring absentee.
Former British & Irish Lions captain O’Driscoll believes Leinster stalwart Toner could have proved crucial to Ireland’s lineout at the World Cup, but still backed boss Schmidt to steer his side back to top form.
“I think there was always going to be a big omission, such is the strength in depth,” O’Driscoll told the PA news agency.
“I guess no-one saw Devin Toner being left out. And it kind of beggars belief that if the lineout is malfunctioning you then don’t include your tallest player and your best lineout operator.
“He’s the most capped player under Joe Schmidt, the go-to guy for big games.
“And only 10 months ago he was dominating the lineout in that big victory against the All Blacks at the Aviva Stadium. So it’s quite the fall from grace.
“And obviously Joe Schmidt sees something in Jean Kleyn, different player from Devin Toner, a big scrummager and maybe a meatier ball carrier.
“But if I was Devin Toner I’d be feeling very sorry for myself, and wondering whether it was justified.”
Toner has started 50 of Schmidt’s 67 Test matches at the Ireland helm, and produced a fine showing in the 16-9 win over back-to-back world champions New Zealand in Dublin in November.
Munster’s South Africa-born lock Kleyn only qualified on residency for Ireland two days before his Test debut, against Italy in August.
But now the 26-year-old has been thrust into Ireland’s final World Cup group, with Schmidt valuing his scrummaging ability and aggression around the field.
O’Driscoll believes Toner could yet wind up at the World Cup however, should any injuries strike the Ireland camp.
Schmidt’s side will complete their warm-up schedule by hosting Wales in Dublin on Saturday, before opening their Pool A campaign against Scotland on September 22.
Asked if a discarded player can ever state their selection arguments to a coach, O’Driscoll said: “I think you have to be careful with how honest you are, there’s a chance of injuries and you don’t want to alienate yourself by putting your foot in your mouth and saying something you can’t take back.
“You can be honest and say ‘I think you’ve made a bad decision’, but ultimately it’s not going to change his mind.
“So you’ve got to deal with the disappointment and stay fit because you never know what’s around the corner.”
Ireland slumped to a record 57-15 loss to England at Twickenham two weeks ago, causing external alarm amid their World Cup preparations.
O’Driscoll enjoyed years of success under Schmidt at first Leinster and then Ireland, and backed the savvy Kiwi boss to roll a few more trademark trick plays once the Japanese global battle gets into full swing.
“Undoubtedly Joe’s still got a few more tricks up his sleeve,” said O’Driscoll, speaking as a Land Rover ambassador.
“You would have been a bit more comfortable if you’d seen a little bit more rhythm to the team, particularly in phase plays.
“But I think some of the launch plays he’s got planned, some we’ll have seen in play books three or four years ago, others we’ll never have seen before.
“So I’m excited as an analyst to go and watch that, and see how he manipulates defences to then get them to do something that they can counter.
“And that’s where he separates himself from the rest of the coaching world: the amount of footage he’s watched, and the detail that he goes through, he’s able to see patterns and put things into effect to counter opponents.”
Warren Gatland believes there are as many as six or seven teams capable of winning the World Cup after naming his 31-man Wales squad for the tournament.
Lock Cory Hill has been named in the group despite suffering from a leg fracture. Dragons lock Hill, who captained his country in two Tests against Argentina last year, could be unavailable until Wales’ second pool game against Australia in Tokyo on September 29.
He has not played since February, while fly-half Rhys Patchell also features following his try-scoring exploits against Ireland on Saturday.
Scarlets props Rob Evans and Samson Lee did not make the cut, with Saracens loosehead Rhys Carre, who made his Test debut against Ireland, among five players chosen in that position.
“We’ll have to assess the progress of someone like Cory Hill,” Wales head coach Gatland said.
“Hopefully, he will be on track to make that second game, but if he doesn’t hit his markers, we may have to make a call.
“I think this is the most open World Cup we’ve had for a long time. There are six or seven teams capable of winning the World Cup.
“You always need a little bit of luck. You get to the quarter-finals and then take it one game at a time.
“I think it (squad) is good enough to win (the World Cup). We go there with a lot of confidence.”
Gatland has opted for a split of 13 backs and 18 forwards, but Evans and Lee, who have 77 caps between them, miss out along with the likes of Jarrod Evans, Owen Lane, Scott Williams and Bradley Davies from Wales’ training group.
Gatland added: “When we decided to go with the five props, one of the big discussion points was how durable the props were.
“Rob hasn’t trained a lot in the lead-up to the World Cup matches. He came in with a shoulder injury, then he picked up a neck injury and a few back issues, so he hadn’t played a lot.
“Samson has missed a few campaigns through injury, and had a hamstring issue during the campaign.
“Someone like Rhys Carre has made incredible progress. He’s dropped 10kgs, I thought he did well on Saturday.
“Apart from one day, when he found it tough when his calves were tight, he hasn’t missed a training session, he hasn’t been in the physio room.”
It will be captain Alun-Wyn Jones’ fourth World Cup, with wing George North and hooker Ken Owens featuring in the tournament for a third time.
Patchell and Jarrod Evans effectively played for one fly-half place alongside Dan Biggar when they had 40 minutes each in Saturday’s 22-17 defeat against Ireland.
“I thought Rhys came on and gave a pretty solid performance in the second-half,” Gatland said.
“For us, with Rhys, the whole time he’s been with us it has been about rebuilding his confidence.
“He came in not being picked for the Scarlets, being on the bench and not having a lot of rugby, so we wanted to bring him along slowly, giving him the confidence and belief he can perform at this level.”
Our 31-man RWC squad is enjoying media duty this morning ⏺ Bore prysur i'r garfan yn y Fro. pic.twitter.com/lut6KFi2vq— Welsh Rugby Union 🏉 (@WelshRugbyUnion) September 2, 2019
Wales’ opening World Cup game is against Georgia in Toyota City on September 23, followed by Australia in Tokyo six days later.
The tournament will be Gatland’s farewell from a role he has filled since 2008, during which time Wales have won four Six Nations titles, three Grand Slams and reached a World Cup semi-final.
Wales World Cup squad
Props: Nicky Smith (Ospreys), Wyn Jones (Scarlets), Rhys Carre (Saracens), Tomas Francis (Exeter Chiefs), Dillon Lewis (Cardiff Blues)
Hookers: Ken Owens (Scarlets), Elliot Dee (Dragons), Ryan Elias (Scarlets)
Second-rows: Alun-Wyn Jones (Ospreys, capt), Adam Beard (Ospreys), Cory Hill (Dragons), Jake Ball (Scarlets).
Back-rowers: Aaron Shingler (Scarlets), Josh Navidi (Cardiff Blues), Ross Moriarty (Dragons), Aaron Wainwright (Dragons), Justin Tipuric (Ospreys), James Davies (Scarlets)
Scrum-halves: Gareth Davies (Scarlets), Tomos Williams (Cardiff Blues), Aled Davies (Ospreys)
Fly-halves: Dan Biggar (Northampton), Rhys Patchell (Scarlets)
Centres: Hadleigh Parkes (Scarlets), Jonathan Davies (Scarlets), Owen Watkin (Ospreys)
Back three: Liam Williams (Saracens), Leigh Halfpenny (Scarlets), George North (Ospreys), Hallam Amos (Cardiff Blues), Josh Adams (Cardiff Blues)
Joe Schmidt is gearing up for a “horrible couple of days” thrashing out Ireland’s World Cup squad selection.
Ireland edged out Wales 22-17 in Cardiff to hit back from last weekend’s 57-15 humbling in England, with Jacob Stockdale grabbing a try brace.
Ireland will submit their 31-man World Cup squad to World Rugby on Monday, but will not publicise that final Japanese travelling party until September 8.
Will Addison fared well at full-back but Schmidt branded the Ulster utility back “underdone”, suggesting he could miss out amid the head coach’s final selection deliberations, with Andrew Conway having furthered his claims.
Asked how close he is to his final 31-man selection, Schmidt said: “I can tell you now, I’m not sure. We need to see what our balance is.
“Whatever you do there’s always a risk you don’t quite get it right. I don’t think we got it right last time (in 2015).
“It’s a horrible couple of days. For those players who miss out it’s going to be a real body blow, I’m incredibly conscious of that.
“But you can only take 31 players and that’s the reality of it.”
Jack Carty surely assured himself Ireland’s third fly-half berth with an accomplished performance at 10 at the Principality Stadium.
Schmidt insisted that Johnny Sexton will feature against Wales in Dublin next weekend, and that Joey Carbery will beat his ankle injury in time for Ireland’s World Cup opener against Scotland on September 22.
Munster playmaker Carbery can offer emergency cover at scrum-half, with Conor Murray and Kieran Marmion likely to be Ireland’s two recognised nines in the eventual squad.
Tadhg Beirne should fill the fourth lock berth, with his ability to feature at flanker allowing Ireland to select five back-rowers.
Rory Best showed up well off the bench in Cardiff, making 12 tackles in a combative 20-minute cameo – reasserting his credentials as Ireland’s World Cup captain.
Addison, Conway, Jordan Larmour and Chris Farrell could now hand Schmidt the biggest deliberations in his backline selections.
“We’ll go back and have a look at it, certainly we’ll be as forensic as we can in looking back, then discussing it as coaches over the next day and a bit really,” said Schmidt.
“We’ll get together tomorrow afternoon and evening, then we’ll have more time on Monday morning.
“Will (Addison) did some things really well, he took a cut to the head and then got cramp, so we brought him off to protect him from injury.
“He has such a balanced running style, he gets a good look at the pitch running back from full-back, and he’s accomplished at kicking and kicking goals as well. So he’s a good back-up from that perspective.
“He’s underdone, he hasn’t had as much rugby as we would have liked, but then versatility is a huge strength for him.
“He’s covered the full spectrum of the back three and 13 which is an asset when trying to narrow a squad down.
“So we’ll be looking at him and comparing a few other guys, and seeing who best fits the mould.”
Schmidt praised Connacht playmaker Carty for his showing in Cardiff, but admitted again selection calls will not be straightforward.
“Jack’s done well, but it’s apples, oranges and lemons,” said Schmidt.
“You’ve got a number of different 10 options.
“One of them (Sexton) hasn’t played yet, but we all know he’ll play next week and will go.
“And another (Carbery) played very well for 50 minutes against Italy, and might be on the bench next week but will certainly be back in time for Scotland.”
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