Friday 23 August 2019

New dawn beckons for Carbery

Joe Schmidt is confident that Joey Carbery has what it takes to deliver at highest level. Photo: Sportsfile
Joe Schmidt is confident that Joey Carbery has what it takes to deliver at highest level. Photo: Sportsfile
Ruaidhri O'Connor

Ruaidhri O'Connor

It is the elephant in the Carton House room, but Paddy Jackson's enforced absence has left Ireland with a major shortage of options at No 10.

In an environment where normally no one's place is safe, Johnny Sexton is a secure figure as the number one No 10.

When fit, there is no discussion around the out-half position but relying on the 32-year-old can be a risky business. He is in a rich vein of form and is enjoying a clean run without injury, but Schmidt knows how quickly fortunes can change.

He had invested time into Jackson, particularly since the 2016 Six Nations - a period in which the Ulster No 10 started nine of Ireland's 15 games - and since the three-Test tour of South Africa he appeared to have earned the coach's trust.

However, the 25-year-old is out of the game indefinitely as he awaits trial and Schmidt has been forced to delve into his shallow resources.

With Ian Madigan - his preferred reserve out-half for the first half of his reign - in exile, the next men in are Joey Carbery and Ian Keatley.

The Munster pivot has been drafted in in cases of emergency, but is in a three-way battle for the starting spot at his province.

Carbery, meanwhile, is also in a three-way race with Sexton and Ross Byrne and given the resources available, Leo Cullen has opted to redeploy him to full-back.

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Tomorrow, Carbery will be asked the lead the Irish backline for the first time in an Aviva Stadium Test match.

His first start came in New Jersey last summer and he struggled against the United States both off the tee and in open play. Last weekend, he produced an excellent cameo in the last 10 minutes against South Africa but doing it from the off is a different challenge.

Schmidt has confidence in his ability, but needs him to grow up very quickly against Fiji.

"A lot of it is even on the training ground because he has just played six minutes of competitive rugby at No 10, I think we are asking a lot of him," the head coach said.

"The comforting thing is he is he takes a lot on himself and he wants to be as good as he can be. If you put yourself under pressure you find out a little bit more about yourself and you learn about yourself.

"We don't necessarily have many windows for Joey to accelerate his learning so this is an opportunity for us to try and accelerate that as best we can.

"He has played almost 450 minutes of competitive rugby this year but that has all been at full-back.

"For him, the time, the space of this match, it tightens the whole thing up and for him to move from 15 to 10 it tightens the whole thing up a lot further.

"It is going to be a tough day at the office for Joey and we want to see how he negotiates that really.

"I totally understand why he doesn't play at 10 (at Leinster) if he has Johnny there and Ross Byrne, who had such a super season last year and his goal-kicking is so reliable that that's the best solution so that's what you go with .

"That's why Joey is starting this weekend. If he doesn't get those windows elsewhere we've got to try and get them for him here, because we do need some support beneath Johnny, just as we do for all sorts of players."

With the high stakes of the Six Nations on the horizon, Schmidt is using tomorrow's game against the world's No 9 side as a chance to blood some new faces and test new combinations.

While he might have been tempted to give Carbery the comfort of experience either side, he has chosen to rotate his options almost entirely and made 13 changes.

So, Kieran Marmion plays inside him and Stuart McCloskey is outside him. The big Ulster centre comes in from the cold for a second cap alongside debutant Chris Farrell in what is surely the biggest centre partnership Ireland has ever fielded.

Behind them, Andrew Conway switches to full-back and Darren Sweetnam and Dave Kearney line out on the wings.

Up front, Rob Herring and Andrew Porter get their first starts alongside the vastly experienced Jack McGrath. Ultan Dillane makes just his second start, partnering the team's most experienced player Devin Toner. Behind them, an all-Leinster back-row of captain Rhys Ruddock, Jordi Murphy and Jack Conan looks potent.

It is an experimental line-up against a potent force who should not be taken lightly, but there is a need to get experience into the young players. No more does he need to find out if the new faces can cut it than at out-half.

"We are trying to build resilience for all our players and we are also trying to build that next player through," Schmidt said.

"You can't build them though unless they have had the acid test, the opportunities to put themselves in and learn from it. We know he will be better for the experience.

"Will he be good enough on the day? We would love him to be and he is keen to be and he has worked hard to be so it will be a fine balance and we try to find the balance as best we can.

"You know the temptation was maybe put some more experience around him but then Kieran Marmion he keeps evolving. He is lion-hearted, absolutely lion-hearted, he has a real spark to the way he plays and hopefully that will take a lot of pressure off Joey.

"Joey's got unbelievably good balance. He can look like he's gliding and then suddenly step, go and he doesn't seem to miss a beat. He's got really polished passing skills and his kicking skills have really come on leaps and bounds.

"I know he got a bit of a tough time in the USA and with some of the feedback he got, but not so much internally. We were happy that when he decided to kick there was the space, but it got closed down very quickly and he'll learn from that hopefully.

"Because there were a lot of things in that game that he did that were really good. They were things like directing other players, controlling the game. Because those are the really big things and difficult things to do when you first come in especially as a young 10."

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