Preparation window key as Joe Schmidt explains decision to start Joey Carbery against Australia
Joe Schmidt is looking to limit his exposure to an injury to Johnny Sexton by starting Joey Carbery at out-half for Saturday’s opening Test against Australia.
The Ireland coach confirmed the surprise decision at a press conference in Brisbane earlier this morning as he made six changes to the team that won the Grand Slam in Twickenham on St Patrick’s Day.
Sexton is one of a number of front-line Leinster players who are confined to the bench after a busy month, but it is the decision to choose Carbery for the biggest start of his career to date that is grabbing headlines.
Asked what is different between the 32-year-old and his 22-year-old rival, Schmidt focused in on their similar running games and defensive strengths before settling on the gap in experience.
That is what he is trying to bridge in the 18 months before next year’s World Cup in Japan.
"I guess it's the maturity, really," he said.
"Johnny runs a really solid game. People are deferential to Johnny because he has been in the seat for a long time.
"But if he has been in the seat for a long time and no one else gets to sit in it, then we just leave ourselves a little bit exposed if he's not in the seat.
"It's a super opportunity for young Joey to try and make sure he learns a bit each opportunity he does get."
It was always expected that Carbery would get some game-time on this tour, but a combination of the extended lead-in time and the work-load Sexton has gotten through in recent weeks fed into the decision to start him in the first Test.
"It was similar to the decision-making in some of the other positions, like Tadhg Furlong," he said.
"Some of those guys have had some reasonably tough weeks, it was an opportunity really.
"One of the things with Joey, we really wanted to get him out there at No 10 at some stage and we thought that the best window was to give him the longest preparation window possible.
"As I said, before I left Dublin, it was a surprise to myself that Joey decided to go to Munster. We didn't realise that he was going to get that opportunity, we'd already talked about giving him this opportunity.
"So, we decided to forge ahead with it.
"It was trying to get a balance, we decided that it was an opportunity that would probably be more difficult to engineer during the tour because the longest window of preparation... we trained last Thursday in Dublin, then we really trained fully on Tuesday and Thursday of this week.
"Within those three training (sessions), it gave Joey an opportunity to slot himself in there as it did for John Ryan and Rob Herring in a similar vein.
"It's probably a good opportunity for some of those people to put their hand up."
Schmidt has surrounded Carbery with a host of experienced backs, and Keith Earls has no doubts that the Munster-bound out-half will be fine.
"He has two experienced lads with Robbie (Henshaw) and Bundee (Aki, in the centre) and, I suppose, myself and Kearns (Rob Kearney) at the back, Jacob (Stockdale) has been Jacob this year. He's been a freak even though he hasn't much experience," Earls said.
"We kind of stay tight as a unit, help Joey out as much as he can but I don't think he'll need too much help.
"He's a great player and I'm looking forward to playing with him."
With Sexton on the bench, Peter O’Mahony captains the side.
"I've been playing under Pete as captain for a while now, he speaks well during training and gets his messages across," Earls said.
"The main thing is going to be his actions. From kick-off he is going to go out and go as far as he can for as long as he can.
"Fellas get in behind him, because that's what you want your captain to do - to lead by example, and there's no better man."