sport news Joe Schmidt’s focus will be turning Japanese from here as Ireland step up ...

In 324 days' time, Ireland will run out at the Yokohama International Stadium to face Scotland in their Pool A opener at the World Cup in Japan.

The All Blacks are coming to town in a few weeks and there is the small matter of a Six Nations title to defend but make no mistake about it, everything going forward will be geared towards next year's World Cup.

That journey begins this Saturday against the Azzurri at Soldier Field, the scene of Joe Schmidt's greatest triumph against the All Blacks this time two years' ago.

Everything going forward for Joe Schmidt will be getting Ireland ready for the World Cup

Everything going forward for Joe Schmidt will be getting Ireland ready for the World Cup

Ireland's head coach has set his stall out with an intriguing matchday 23 for this weekend's clash in Chicago. There are first starts for Jordan Larmour and Tadhg Beirne. Both players can fill multiple roles and look sure bets for that 31-man squad heading to the Far East next September but the pair have an opportunity to prove to Schmidt that they're starters.

In the injury-enforced absence of Rob Kearney, Larmour gets his first shot at filling the full-back shirt, on his seventh appearance for his country. He has made some impressive cameos in the past 12 months but now he has to prove he is the full package.

Larmour is undoubtedly the most exciting broken-field runner in the country but his positional play, defence and high-ball skills will be forensically examined by the Ireland boss.

'His cameos during the Six Nations and in Australia were really promising, including some impressive involvements on the ground and in the air,' said Schmidt on Thursday.

'The catch he took in the last few minutes in the third test in Australia was superb, despite competing with one of the best in the business in Israel Folau.' Ireland are blessed with an array of superb locks but Beirne will look to break up the established order of James Ryan, Devin Toner and Iain Henderson.

The All Blacks are coming to town soon and there is the small matter of a Six Nations

The All Blacks are coming to town soon and there is the small matter of a Six Nations

The 26-year-old arrived at Munster from the Scarlets in the summer with a huge reputation on the back of countless man-of-the-match awards as well as being named the PRO14 Players' Player of the Season.

His freakish ability to win turnovers on the deck offers a real point of difference and the Kildare native has a big chance to wrestle his way into the reckoning for the marquee Tests and Argentina and New Zealand later this month.

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