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Carbery and Coombes vital to future vision as Farrell gives youth its opportunity

Ruaidhri O'Connor


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Ireland forwards coach Paul O'Connell and head coach Andy Farrell in attendance at the recent Guinness PRO14 match between Leinster and Dragons at the RDS. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

Ireland forwards coach Paul O'Connell and head coach Andy Farrell in attendance at the recent Guinness PRO14 match between Leinster and Dragons at the RDS. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

Joey Carbery

Joey Carbery

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Ireland forwards coach Paul O'Connell and head coach Andy Farrell in attendance at the recent Guinness PRO14 match between Leinster and Dragons at the RDS. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

So, this is what the future looks like for Irish rugby. Already without his Lions, Andy Farrell has opted to give his senior citizens a break for the upcoming meetings against Japan and the United States.

Twenty-one of the 37 players named have played fewer than 10 times for Ireland. Only four of them, Dave Kilcoyne, Peter O’Mahony, John Ryan and Rob Herring, are over 30. 

After O’Mahony, who has 75 caps, the next most experienced player is Kilcoyne who has 41, with Garry Ringrose, Jacob Stockdale and the captain James Ryan next up on 34.

Since Paul O’Connell retired, this has been Johnny Sexton’s team. Rory Best was the captain going into the last World Cup, but the out-half was the team’s heart and soul and since he’s taken over as skipper he’s been the focal point.

Considering he’ll be 38 at the World Cup in France, it is the right move to give him the summer off.

It both extends his chances of making that tournament in 26 months’ time and prepares Ireland for the eventuality that he won’t.

Instead, Joey Carbery gets his chance to start for Ireland for the first time since August 2019.  The 25-year-old’s mission is to play so well that he’s starting when the All Blacks come to town in November and when the Six Nations get under way next year.

It is telling that Harry Byrne leapfrogs his brother Ross into the squad. Injury has thwarted the younger sibling’s chances to move up the Leinster pecking order, but the Ireland management have been keen to get him into the set-up.

Billy Burns was the second-choice out-half during the Six Nations but his international career has yet to ignite. If he’s not careful, he’ll find himself behind the two men he’ll vie with for the No 10 shirt in the next couple of weeks.

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Carbery’s biggest enemy has been his own body.

The Athy native has missed Farrell’s 14 games to date. If all goes to plan, there are around 21 matches between now and Ireland’s World Cup warm-ups.

Every one of them is needed to build the backline around the Munster No 10. Sexton is in contract until 2022 and is sitting on 99 Ireland caps. He still has a role to play, but there’s a risk in persisting with him as the skipper and a starter.

Thirteen of the match-day 23 from Ireland’s last game out against England are unavailable and it is the man who won’t be back who will take the most replacing.

CJ Stander returns home to South Africa this week and all eyes will focus on Gavin Coombes to see how he handles the step up to international rugby.

Considering his form has been so impressive all season, Farrell has been slow to give the Skibbereen native his head.

He trained with the squad briefly last spring but was never in contention for a Six Nations appearance. Now, surely, his time has come.

A back-row of Coombes, Josh van der Flier and Caelan Doris looks to have the lovely blend of ball-carrying menace, defensive nous, breakdown skills and dog that Ireland are looking for.

Farrell may look to O’Mahony as a leader, while he talked up Nick Timoney in particular in his press conference yesterday. Paul Boyle is another newcomer capable of making an impact.

Investment in Rónan Kelleher is key to Ireland’s future success, while the ill-timed injury to Eric O’Sullivan is unfortunate as loosehead remains something of a problem position for Ireland.

Peter Dooley’s addition is reward for his excellent Leinster form and there’s a chance for the powerful Birr native to stake a claim.

It will be interesting to see who Farrell pairs with Ringrose in the centre, with Stuart McCloskey surely next man up but Tom Daly pushing hard to make the most of Bundee Aki and Robbie Henshaw’s absence.

Even without Keith Earls and the returning Simon Zebo, the back three is an area of strength but you get the sense Robert Balacoune will get a chance to take his Ulster form on to the international stage.

Investing in players like the Enniskillen winger who have the capacity to impact games for Ireland in the next World Cup is the priority.

Not all 11 new faces will make the grade, but this is a chance to freshen up the team and really look to the future.


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