Monday 24 June 2019

Comment: Joey Carbery call a combination of Joe Schmidt’s belief and the need to learn from the mistakes of 2015


Joey Carbery. Photo: Sportsfile
Joey Carbery. Photo: Sportsfile

Rúaidhrí O'Connor

Not long after news of Joe Schmidt's decision to make six changes to his team and play Joey Carbery from the start of tomorrow's first Test broke on Wednesday night, a Brisbane-based Australian friend with a good knowledge of Irish rugby dropped a line.

"Ireland are either supremely confident or not fussed by the result," he wrote. "Imagine the accusations of arrogance had Australia made those selections."

Joe Schmidt. Photo: Sportsfile
Joe Schmidt. Photo: Sportsfile

Joe Schmidt would bristle at the notion that his selection could be interpreted in such terms, but by leaving Johnny Sexton and Tadhg Furlong, in particular, out of the starting XV, he risks the locals taking umbrage.

He is not here to win friends, he is here to win matches and perhaps more importantly invest in his squad ahead of next year's World Cup.

For the Ireland head coach, it would be a mistake not to expose Carbery to the top level.

"Is there a greater risk in not making the decision? If we continue to use Johnny solely at number 10 for the next 18 months, is there more risk in that? It's a risk we've taken before that was not particularly successful," he said yesterday.

Schmidt has absorbed the lessons of 2015 and is determined that, in 15 months' time, he will arrive in Japan with coverage for every position.

Losing five key players in a devastating 10-day period in that World Cup left a mark on the Ireland coach and he is determined not to be caught short again.

Although he continues to deny the suggestion that he influenced Carbery's move to Munster, he will reap the benefit of the 22-year-old's increased game-time at provincial level but he also needs to give him the experience of starting a big Test.

Tomorrow, Carbery is handed the No 10 shirt for the biggest game of his career against high-calibre opposition.

His coach reckons he's ready, otherwise he wouldn't have picked him.

Although Michael Cheika's playful suggestion that Sexton won't be happy with his likely successor getting an opportunity to shine is premature, the Auckland-born out-half is clearly rated by some very good judges and needs a chance to show that he can thrive.

Schmidt is one of those.

He wants to win the series, but he is also acutely aware that his window of opportunity is narrowing.

With four games in November as well as the usual five Six Nations matches in the spring, he may need to call on Carbery in a big game with lots at stake and he must invest in him to make sure he's ready.

By surrounding him with what is arguably the first-choice backline, he is giving him a real chance to thrive.

Despite making six changes from the win over England in Twickenham, Schmidt will be quietly confident his team can win the series.

Dan Leavy is a loss, but there is plenty of talent in a changed pack and the bench will add real impact.

Omitting Sean Cronin is a questionable call, but an all-Leinster replacement front-row of Cian Healy, Cronin and Furlong is a frightening prospect.

Throw in Sexton's ability to change a game and Ireland have a security blanket.

Schmidt will hope he doesn't have to use it and has identified the first quarter as crucial for Carbery.

"Trying to control that first 15 minutes is a massive task for Joey," he said.

"Hopefully he gets some good assistance from Pete (O'Mahony), who leads the team, and guys like Conor (Murray) inside him who takes the pressure off and the guys outside him in Bundee (Aki) and Robbie (Henshaw)."

With a two-week lead-in, Schmidt has afforded Carbery plenty of time to get his head around starting, to nail his role, and to be ready.

After an agonising period wondering about his future, the player now knows he has the firm backing of a head coach who rates him highly, and he will relish the opportunity.

For all the talk of development, the series remains an important goal for a coach whose team has not lost in more than a year.

Yesterday, Schmidt referenced the 2016 trip to South Africa which ultimately ended in disappointment despite Ireland's victory in the opener in Cape Town.

That was one that got away, but the squad the coach selected from yesterday is far stronger. He has real options and is prepared to use them over the course of the three weeks.

You won't hear him admit it publicly, but you sense he is confident enough in his team's ability to thrive despite some of the big players being on the bench or in the stand.

Even with Sexton and Furlong in reserve, Schmidt feels his team can do the job.

If not, he can bring two of the world's best players, plus another couple of top-quality operators, back to try and overturn a 1-0 deficit.

After 80 minutes on Saturday he'll know a lot more about Carbery than he does now.

He was always going to start the 22-year-old in one of the three Tests but no one expected him to play in tomorrow's opener.

It is a bold call and one that could easily back-fire if the young man feels the pressure, but he has risen to plenty of challenges to date.

He can only become a star if he is given an opportunity to shine.

Irish Independent

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