Joey Carbery set for surprise inclusion ahead of Johnny Sexton in much-changed Ireland team to face Australia
Joey Carbery is set to start at out-half for Ireland against Australia on Saturday as Joe Schmidt names a much-changed line-up for the first test.
Peter O’Mahony will captain the team as the coach keeps a host of Leinster’s leading lights on ice after their busy end-of-season run-in.
As well as Sexton, Cian Healy, Sean Cronin, Tadhg Furlong, Devin Toner, Garry Ringrose and Dan Leavy miss out in what will come as a major surprise to the Wallabies.
Schmidt was always going to rotate his team during this three-test tour, but leaving such high-calibre players out of the Brisbane opener could be interpreted as a risky move.
Two years ago, he went with his strongest possible side for the series opener in South Africa, before making changes and handing out opportunities in the second Test and rotating again in the third.
Carbery was always expected to start one of the three games, but it is a surprise to see him in the No 10 shirt for the opening encounter.
However, Schmidt has offered the Munster-bound out-half the chance to play in an experienced backline with Robbie Henshaw replacing Ringrose in the only other change behind the scrum from the team that started the final Six Nations game against Twickenham.
Carbery was Sexton's deputy throughout the Six Nations, while he started the win over Fiji in November, but struggled to get starts in his preferred position at his home province, which played a big part in his decision to leave.
Schmidt was quick to praise the 22-year-old’s recent performances during Leinster’s run-in and is very much aware of the need to get him high level game-time.
The coach confirms his team at 7am on Thursday morning (Irish time) and it seems likely that the heavy recent workload of the Leinster players played a large role in his decision.
Co-captain on tour along with Sexton, O’Mahony has plenty of leadership experience with Munster, Ireland and the Lions and lines up alongside Jordi Murphy and CJ Stander in the back row.
Like Murphy, James Ryan is tasked with going again alongside the recovered Iain Henderson, while Schmidt is believed to have opted to start Munster’s John Ryan ahead of Andrew Porter, who was Furlong’s back-up during the Six Nations.
Rob Herring is likely to step into Rory Best’s boots at hooker ahead of Cronin and Niall Scannell, and the vastly experienced Jack McGrath is expected to swap the No 1 shirt with Cian Healy once again.
Many of the big names are expected to be named on the bench, with Joe Schmidt set to confirm his team tomorrow.
Possible Ireland team to face Australia: R Kearney; K Earls, R Henshaw, B Aki, J Stockdale; J Carbery, C Murray; J McGrath, R Herring, John Ryan; I Henderson, James Ryan; P O’Mahony (capt), J Murphy, CJ Stander.