Schmidt’s Ireland train in the RDS with fullback Kearney on fringes

ROB KEARNEY’S MODERATED training schedule allowed him to get through only straight-line running at the RDS as the rest of the Ireland squad undertook a high-tempo session under the eyes of Joe Schmidt and a couple of thousand fans.

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Joe Schmidt in good spirits at the RDS. Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

The experienced fullback suffered a blow to the knee in the clash with Wales two weekends ago, missing Saturday’s defeat to England, and remains on the trail back towards full training.

As the likelihood is that Schmidt will pick a strong XV for Ireland’s World Cup opener against Canada on 19 September in Cardiff, the hope is that Kearney shows swift improvement in the coming days.

The squad splits tomorrow to finish the training week with their provinces and enjoy one final weekend of respite before the intensity of a World Cup campaign, the dream being that Ireland’s weekends are occupied right up to and including 31 October.

This afternoon’s open training session in Dublin, the third of the pre-World Cup schedule after visits to Galway and Cork, left observers searching for clues about Schmidt’s thinking in terms of selection and tactics not much the wiser.

“It was good to get a bit of a hit out in the RDS,” said hooker Richardt Strauss afterwards. “It’s always nice coming back here and I think the boys enjoyed it. There was a decent crowd out there this morning.

Johnny Sexton gets in for a selfie with supporters. Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

“We’ve been lucky that we’ve had good support every time in all the camps, so it was great to see that in Dublin as well.”

In a busy hour at the RDS, Iain Henderson locked down with Paul O’Connell but so too did Devin Toner. Cian Healy switched in and out of the first-choice team, as did Nathan White. Keith Earls ran in a back three alongside Dave Kearney and Simon Zebo at times, but Luke Fitzgerald and Tommy Bowe were heavily involved too.

There were fitness games, set-pieces and a non-contact 15-on-15 run, though a sharp workout for the outside backs at chasing high kicks was about the only indication of Ireland’s game plan focuses. Zebo did pop up at first receiver a fair amount, something we’re keeping a close eye on.

Leinster prospects Harrison Brewer and Josh van der Flier, as well as Connacht centre Dave McSharry, were part of the session as Schmidt swelled the numbers given the absence of Kearney and the limited involvement of Conor Murray, who continued his return-to-play protocols and also mixed in with the team portions of training.

After an uncharacteristically sloppy outing against England, where dropped ball and missed tackles overrode the positives from Ireland, the intensity and tempo on display at the RDS was exactly what Schmidt and his coaches would have been looking for.

O’Connell gets warmed up for a high-tempo session. Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

The realisation all around is that this thing is on top of us now. The World Cup is not ‘looming’ anymore – it’s right around the corner waiting with the promise of success, the threat of failure and the many unknowns that could occur.

In 11 days’ time, Schmidt will have had his first-ever direct involvement in a World Cup. Nothing other than a comprehensive win is the expectation against the Canadians before Ireland move on, but the Kiwi’s players won’t be looking beyond that point.

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