The 29-year-old has been in fine form for the province this year and many expected him to nail down a place in the final squad thanks to his place-kicking ability. Yet Schmidt had to be ruthless, as he had 43 players at the training camp and he needs to trim the group to 31 before the registration deadline.
Connacht prop Finlay Bealham and full-back Mike Haley were also axed and 40 men remain standing. That includes seven Ulster players – Ireland captain Rory Best, Iain Henderson, Rob Herring, Jack McGrath, Jordi Murphy, Will Addison and Jacob Stockdale – and they will hope to hang onto their places for the big tournament in Japan. The 40-man group now heads to Portugal for an eight-day warm weather training camp, before Ireland take on England at Twickenham on Saturday, August 24.
The top-rated sports betting sites in the business rank Ireland as the fourth favourites to go on and win the tournament. The All-Blacks remain the favourites, although they have drifted out to 6/4 following their shock defeat to Australia last week. England are second in the betting at 9/2, then South Africa are priced at 5/1, with Ireland at 8/1 and Wales at 9/1, while the Aussies have been cut to 12/1 following that victory over New Zealand. It is sure to be fiercely competitive, but Ireland should feel quietly confident about their chances of success.
They have secured three Six Nations titles in six years since Schmidt took the reins and they have also recorded their first victories over his home nation of New Zealand. That augurs well for the big tournament. They have landed in Pool A along with Scotland, hosts Japan, Russia and Samoa, and they should win that with ease. Yet they would then go into a quarter-final clash with the runner-up of Pool B, which contains both New Zealand and South Africa. Chances are they would face the Springboks, which would surely be the pick of the last-eight matches.
Ireland do not have a great record against South Africa, with just seven wins from 26 games, but they dominated their last encounter. That took place in Dublin on November 17, 2017, and Ireland picked up a thumping 38-3 win in the end-of-year Test. They also picked up their first ever victory in South Africa when they beat the Springboks 26-20 in Cape Town the previous year, so they should not fear Rassie Erasmus’ men. South Africa have just lost attack coach Swys de Bruin and that could disrupt their preparations.
If Ireland could see off South Africa in the quarters, they are likely to face either Wales or Australia in the semi-finals, ahead of a potential final showdown with New Zealand or England. The Irish have vanquished all of those teams in recent years, and they just need to recapture the magic that saw them win the Grand Slam, rise to second in the world rankings and take the All-Blacks down last year.
Best has urged his side to use their World Cup warm-up games to build up momentum ahead of the tournament, which begins in Japan next month. “It is about making sure that we produce performances,” said the Ulster hooker, who has now racked up an impressive haul of 117 caps. “It’s important that we treat each of these games as a Test match and we really fire into them.” Best believes they can shrug off heavy defeats to England and Wales and go back to the approach that previously served them well. After the match at Twickenham, they play Wales twice before the World Cup begins, giving them plenty of opportunities to gain sweet revenge and head into the tournament full of confidence.