Joe Schmidt returns to New Zealand after family bereavment

Ireland manager has left training camp as squad prepare for first warm-up match

Joe Schmidt has returned to New Zealand due to a family bereavement, although the Irish head coach is expected to link up with the squad in time for the opening World Cup warm-up game against Italy at the Aviva Stadium on Saturday (kick-off 2pm, live on RTE).

In the meantime, his assistant coach and heir apparent, Andy Farrell, has taken charge of training at the squad’s base in Carton House in Kildare.

“Unfortunately Joe had to go back to New Zealand due to a family bereavement,” confirmed scrum coach Greg Feek today. “He’ll be back in a few days’ time. On behalf of the team, I’d like to pass on our condolences to Joe and his wider family. He’ll be back at some stage near the end of the week.

“Joe has things in place and that includes the management, particularly the coaches and the players know they’re roles. It has been quite seamless in that sense and we all know Joe is on the computer keeping an eye on things as well.


“That’s the environment we’re in, we’ve got to keep going and prepare for a really important Test match this week. Andy has taken the reins and has doing quite a good job to be fair to him.”

Feek also confirmed that Ireland have a full squad to choose from this week, for what is likely to be a fairly experimental side.

“Things are looking pretty good at the moment. I saw Johnny and he gave me the thumbs up, so obviously he’s looking good. Apart from that, we’re hopefully looking pretty good at the weekend.”

On Monday the coaching staff released Ultan Dillane and Rory Scannell back to Connacht and Munster in clipping the training squad to 43.

“You’ve got to start making some calls, and not just for the team’s sake, but for their sake as well,” explained Feek. “We had six locks with Ultan and a number of inside backs there as well. Unfortunately, Scans and Ultan had to come back [to their provinces]. They did really well. With the forwards, Ultan was looking physically even better, the best I’ve seen him in a while. These are the tough calls we’ve to start making and that was really tough.

“It’s a difficult process but in terms of depth, when you’re making tough choices at lock now, that’s really positive.”

As to the likelihood of the coaching staff further pruning the squad prior to the week-long warm weather camp in Portugal from the middle of next week, Feek said: “At this stage, we’re just going to wait and see how we get through the game. There’s no point releasing someone and then maybe getting a bit of a niggle after the game. At this stage, it’s just week-by-week and giving guys opportunity as well.”

Looking ahead to the selection against Italy, Feek added: “We’re just picking a team we feel is this best for this week. Some guys might get an opportunity to get their chance now, but it has no relevance of importance whether it’s now or the other three games coming up.”