Joe Schmidt has named a 44-man training squad ahead of preparations for Rugby World Cup 2019 in Japan.

The squad contains six Ulstermen, Rory Best, Iain Henderson, Rob Herring, Jordi Murphy, John Cooney and Jacob Stockdale. Future Ulster player, Jack McGrath is also included along with Fivemiletown native Chris Farrell.

Despite the extended panel, there is no room for centre Stuart McCloskey while injury has likely played a part in Will Addison’s omission.

Around the other provinces, Max Deegan, Quinn Roux and Tom Farrell are unlucky to miss out on selection however Joe Schmidt has stressed that “one or two guys may be added at a later stage.”

Stuart has been one of Ulster’s most reliable performers this season. He sits tied second in try assists while he leads the carry count and offloads among the Ulster players.

His big frame has allows him to win turnovers via the choke tackle and he comes in second in the squad behind Marcell Coetzee.

Having celebrated his 100th appearance against Ospreys at Brewery Field this season, he has established himself as a pivotal player for Ulster over the last two seasons, making a combined total of 50 appearances for his native province.

Despite a sterling season in the white of Ulster I’m a firm believer that Stuart McCloskey is not the casualty of an Irish conspiracy rather than Ireland’s terrific depth at centre.

Robbie Henshaw missed this year’s Six Nations through injury leaving Bundee Aki to occupy the 12 jersey. Garry Ringrose and Chris Farrell rotated the outside centre position with the latter particularly impressing in the match against Italy.

Aki has entrenched himself as a Joe Schmidt favourite over the last two seasons while Garry Ringrose is arguably the in form 13 in the Northern Hemisphere. Alongside Henshaw at Leinster, Ringrose has formed a formidable partnership with the former Connacht player leaving Joe a tough decision as to who his first choice 12 will be even without McCloskey in the mix. Chris Farrell has also had a great season in the red of Munster.

While sometimes I think Ireland could benefit from Stuart’s offloading game, Schmidt looks for versatility down the pecking order. Robbie Henshaw is equally adept playing 12 or 13 and is an option at 15, albeit his last performance at fullback didn’t inspire much confidence. Rory Scannell offers a kicking alternative and can play either centre, fullback or even out half. However, barring an injury catastrophe, I doubt we will see Scannell anywhere except centre.

The 2015 World Cup exposed Ireland’s lack of versatility and Joe Schmidt has attempted to rectify that during this cycle. Scannell is an extremely capable player and offers a more playmaking aspect to the game in contrast to Aki, McCloskey and Henshaw.

Though this season, while McCloskey has recorded the most carries for Ulster, we’ve seen a more varied approach which has allowed the Bangor man to thrive through offloading and carrying at the weak shoulders of defenders.

Interestingly, Will Addison was omitted from the names of players who who missed out due to injury. His back surgery at the start of April ruled him out for the rest of the season with Ulster “hoping that he will be fit for the start of pre-season”. Injury permitting, I’ll be surprised if he doesn’t make the trip to Japan in September.

Lastly, Marty Moore can count himself unlucky that he picked up an injury at the worst time possible. He was ruled out for the remainder of the season after picking up an ankle injury away to Edinburgh in April, and after putting in some excellent performances this season, would have been in contention of a place in that extended squad.

Training squad listed in position below:


Finlay Bealham, Tadhg Furlong, Cian Healy, Dave Kilcoyne, Jack McGrath, Andrew Porter, John Ryan


Rory Best, Sean Cronin, Rob Herring, Niall Scannell


Tadhg Beirne, Ultan Dillane, Iain Henderson, Jean Kleyn, James Ryan, Devin Toner


Jordi Murphy, Tommy O’Donnell, Peter O’Mahony, Rhys Ruddock, Josh vd Flier


Jack Conan, CJ Stander

Scrum halves

John Cooney, Kieran Marmion, Luke McGrath, Conor Murray

Out halves

Ross Byrne, Joey Carbery, Jack Carty, Johnny Sexton


Andrew Conway, Keith Earls, Dave Kearney, Jacob Stockdale


Bundee Aki, Chris Farrell, Robbie Henshaw, Garry Ringrose, Rory Scannell


Mike Haley, Rob Kearney, Jordan Larmour