Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt admitted trimming his Rugby World Cup 2019 squad to 31 players had been “really difficult” as he brought forward the announcement by six days.
Schmidt had been due to confirm his selection for Japan 2019 next Sunday, following his side’s meeting with Wales at the Aviva Stadium on Saturday, but instead revealed his squad on Monday.
Captain Rory Best, who is due to retire from professional rugby following Japan 2019, will lead Ireland during the tournament as he travels to a fourth Rugby World Cup.
Best represented his country at the 2007, 2011 and 2015 editions of the quadrennial tournament and is one of 12 players named by Schmidt who have previous Rugby World Cup experience.
Of the 31 players selected, 20 are graduates of the World Rugby U20 Championship.
However, there is no place in the squad for Devin Toner – who played four matches in England four years ago – with the Leinster second-row edged out by Munster’s Jean Kleyn, who only made his debut against Italy last month.
“It was a difficult thing right from the start to have the 45 [players] that we had,” Schmidt said.
“We went down to 40 players and to go from 40 down to 31 was really difficult, but we had a process whereby we looked back through every training, looked through the games.
“There were some guys who obviously had more experience and probably had more credit in the bank and were more established and there were other guys who were trying to force their way into group and trying to get a balance of current form versus previous performance, it’s always a very very difficult conundrum to try to solve.”
Ireland have appeared at every Rugby World Cup since the inaugural tournament in 1987, but despite navigating the pool stage at each edition bar 2007 they have yet to reach a semi-final.
Having beaten New Zealand twice in the past three years, though, Schmidt’s side will travel to Japan confident of ending their quest for a last-four spot.
Four years ago, Ireland topped Pool D – which included France, Italy, Romania and Canada – only to lose their last-eight match against Argentina 43-20.
Ireland’s 2019 campaign begins with a match against Six Nations rivals Scotland in Yokohama on 22 September, before they play hosts Japan at Shizuoka Stadium Ecopa six days later.
Schmidt’s side round off their Pool A commitments with games against Russia, at Kobe Misaki Stadium on 3 October, and Samoa at Fukuoka Hakatanomi Stadium on 12 October.
Ireland climbed two places to second in the World Rugby Men's Rankings thanks to their 22-17 defeat of Wales in Cardiff last Saturday. They will complete their warm-up schedule this weekend with the return fixture in Dublin.
Ireland Rugby World Cup 2019 squad
Forwards: Rory Best (captain), Tadhg Beirne, Jack Conan, Sean Cronin, Tadhg Furlong, Cian Healy, Dave Kilcoyne, Iain Henderson, Jean Kleyn, Peter O’Mahony, Andrew Porter, Rhys Ruddock, James Ryan, John Ryan, Niall Scannell, CJ Stander, Josh van der Flier.
Backs: Bundee Aki, Joey Carbery, Jack Carty, Andrew Conway, Keith Earls, Chris Farrell, Robbie Henshaw, Rob Kearney, Jordan Larmour, Luke McGrath, Conor Murray, Garry Ringrose, Jonathan Sexton, Jacob Stockdale.