Ireland captain Rory Best is set to bid farewell to life as a professional player at a fourth Rugby World Cup after he was named in Joe Schmidt’s training squad for Japan 2019.
Ulster hooker Best, who announced in April that he would retire at the showpiece tournament, is one of 44 players called up for preparatory camps from mid-June.
In all Schmidt has named 16 players in the training squad who appeared in England four years ago as Ireland were again eliminated at the quarter-final stage, losing out to Argentina in Cardiff. That number includes Dave Kearney, who has not played test rugby since November 2017.
Seven players – Best, Sean Cronin, Cian Healy, Keith Earls, Rob Kearney, Conor Murray and Johnny Sexton – were also in the squad that fell to Wales in the last eight at New Zealand 2011. An eighth, Sean O’Brien, has been ruled out of Japan 2019 due to injury.
Schmidt called up two uncapped players, Mike Haley and Jean Kleyn, on Tuesday as he attempts to end Ireland’s long wait for a semi-final place.
In total, 28 of the 44-man squad have no previous Rugby World Cup experience but there was no room for Ulster backs Will Addison and Stuart McCloskey or Connacht second-row Quinn Roux. Leinster back-row Dan Leavy has also missed out through injury.
Close calls in selection
Although Ireland have failed to navigate the pool stage only once – when Best made his Rugby World Cup debut in 2007 – the three-time Five/Six Nations Grand Slam winners have never progressed further than the last eight.
Their latest bid to end that run will begin in mid-June with training camps in Galway and Limerick, where open sessions are planned, as well as at the squad’s regular base in Maynooth.
Ireland will then play warm-up matches against Italy, in Dublin on 10 August, and England at Twickenham on 24 August before fixtures against Wales on 31 August and 7 September.
“The provinces have done a great job throughout the season with all four of them being involved in two sets of playoffs,” Schmidt said.
“There were some very close calls in selection and it’s always a challenging process because the coaching group are very conscious of how hard the players work. It’s ideal that they get a good opportunity to relax for a few weeks before getting stuck into pre-season training and busy ‘Summer Series’ in the lead up to the World Cup.
“Some players have missed out through injury and there are one or two guys that may be added into the squad at a later stage.”
Ireland training squad
Forwards: Finlay Bealham, Rory Best, Tadhg Beirne, Jack Conan, Sean Cronin, Ultan Dillane, Tadhg Furlong, Cian Healy, Iain Henderson, Rob Herring, Dave Kilcoyne, Jean Kleyn, Jack McGrath, Jordi Murphy, Tommy O’Donnell, Peter O’Mahony, Andrew Porter, Rhys Ruddock, James Ryan, John Ryan, Niall Scannell, CJ Stander, Devin Toner, Josh van der Flier.
Backs: Bundee Aki, Ross Byrne, Joey Carbery, Jack Carty, Andrew Conway, John Cooney, Keith Earls, Chris Farrell, Mike Haley, Robbie Henshaw, Dave Kearney, Rob Kearney, Jordan Larmour, Kieran Marmion, Luke McGrath, Conor Murray, Garry Ringrose, Rory Scannell, Jonathan Sexton, Jacob Stockdale.