Carty set for start as raft of fringe players face final World Cup audition

Ireland's Jack Carty. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

Cian Tracey

By the time Ireland's media commitments had ended yesterday, almost right on cue, the dark clouds that loomed over their Kildare base made way for bright sunshine.

It will take more than a perfectly-timed weather intervention to cure the ills from last weekend, but Joe Schmidt fronting up on a Tuesday felt like the smart thing to do.

After the head coach set the tone for the week ahead, one by one the players filtered through to offer their thoughts on why it had gone so badly wrong at Twickenham.

Some weren't involved in the drubbing, yet the presence of a player as senior as Peter O'Mahony was also a wise move as the onus doesn't fall on others to attempt to offer an explanation for their team-mates' failings.

One thing for sure is that there will be a whole host of changes for the Wales game this weekend.

That was inevitable regardless of the result against England, and Schmidt made it very clear that this would be the final chance for many of his fringe players to book their ticket to Japan.

Come Sunday when Schmidt and his backroom staff sit down for their usual debrief, they will nail down Ireland's 31-man squad before publicly announcing it a week later.

Certain players will be relieved to be getting another chance, while for others, the writing is on the wall.

Anyone who gets a chance in Cardiff will feel like they can genuinely force their way in after last week's horror show.

Jack Carty will be one of those players with the most to gain as he looks set to be handed his first international start.

Ross Byrne will feel like he missed his chance, but to fully judge a young out-half who was behind a pack that was going backwards all day seems rather harsh.

Sentiment won't come into the equation in the coaches' meeting come Sunday, however, and Byrne will realise that harsh reality.

When the squad first convened at the start of the summer, both Carty and Byrne knew that, barring injury, they were in a straight shoot-out to be Ireland's third-choice 10.

It's a pretty close battle that has ebbed and flowed over the first two warm-up games as it had appeared Carty blew his opportunity when Schmidt admitted that he felt the Connacht man struggled to get up to the pace of the game against Italy.

That left Byrne with a golden chance to jump ahead in the pecking order, yet doing so against a fully locked and loaded England team away from home was always a tough ask.

The momentum has now swung back in Carty's favour with Schmidt dropping a major hint that the 26-year-old will start his first Test in Wales on Saturday.

"I think Ross and Jack, they both need more time and my problem is we don't have a lot more time," the head coach explained. "There's only this game coming up this weekend.

"Ross didn't train on Monday, he got a number of bangs - there was some big traffic coming down his channel.

"So, it's highly likely that will mean Jack will start and that's a great opportunity for Jack.

"Ross started last week, that's probably the way we would have gone anyway - to give them a start each in the absence of Joey (Carbery) and, if Johnny (Sexton) is involved he will probably come off the bench this week anyway.

"If we decide to maybe give Johnny a little bit more time, then that might be Ross or we might even change it up again on the basis of maybe thinking ahead if we take two out-halves and three scrum-halves, who else in the back-line can cover that out-half spot?"

Given the injury concerns surrounding Sexton (leg) and Carbery (ankle), it seems unlikely that Schmidt will pick just two No 10s in his final squad.

It is too big of a risk and deep down the head coach knows that, even if he is keeping every player on their toes.

With John Cooney now out of the running as another out-half option, it comes down to Byrne and Carty.

A good, controlled performance from the latter could make what will be a tough decision that bit easier for Schmidt and his brains trust.