Wednesday 21 August 2019

Joey Carbery faces an anxious wait as Joe Schmidt ponders cuts to squad

 

Joey Carbery can’t hide his anguish as he is taken off with an ankle injury. Photo: Seb Daly/Sportsfile
Joey Carbery can’t hide his anguish as he is taken off with an ankle injury. Photo: Seb Daly/Sportsfile

Rúaidhrí O'Connor

The only thing anyone ever remembers about these infernal warm-up matches are the injuries. Consider the pre-tournament games from World Cups past and the images that appear are of Tommy O'Donnell and David Wallace prone on the turf in Cardiff and Dublin, or Brian O'Driscoll holding his face in Bayonne.

We don't yet know if the sight of Joey Carbery on a motorised stretcher, head in hands, will be remembered in the same way but there is massive cause for concern in the Irish ranks.

For 50 minutes, the Munster out-half was the real shining light on a mercurial Dublin day as he handled himself superbly with ball in hand despite the tricky conditions.

Then, his ankle turned as he made a defensive play and when he arose he couldn't put weight through his left leg.

Initial X-rays cleared him of a fracture, but they'll let the swelling come down and scan the joint today to assess the ligament damage.

Joe Schmidt was upbeat on his prospects, but as he spoke about Carbery being fit for England on Saturday week the mind drifted back to the Six Nations when he said something similar about the out-half's hamstring. He would manage less than a half of rugby in three months.

Out-half Joey Carbery goes over for Ireland’s first try against Italy on Saturday. Photo: SPORTSFILE
Out-half Joey Carbery goes over for Ireland’s first try against Italy on Saturday. Photo: SPORTSFILE

Different scenario, different injury. It would be stretching it to say Ireland's World Cup hinges on the result of this scan, but they have a much better chance of achieving their goals with a fit and firing Carbery.

"He was reasonably close to the tryline, he got both his arms under and was in a crouched position and he just got hit sideways and kind of got his ankle underneath him. Now, that could happen to anyone," Schmidt said when asked if there was anything he can do to protect a player whose meteoric rise is consistently checked by injury.

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Rhythm

"Joey has not had the best of luck and sometimes you can have that run. You know, Tadhg Furlong had that run for a couple of years where he didn't play a lot and then he got into a rhythm and he's fine.

Tommy O'Donnell is tackled by Italy's Dean Budd. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Tommy O'Donnell is tackled by Italy's Dean Budd. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

"So, hopefully, Joey will get through this ankle injury. Hopefully, it's not too bad and it might only be that he's off his feet for a week and he's back training and potentially still in the mix for England. If not for England, the Welsh game after that.

"You always worry about injuries in these games, full stop, across the board. It's so important to have a depth in your squad going to a World Cup. That's been a bit of a four-year project for us and it's certainly been a priority in this 12-month window where we've tried to aim up at the World Cup."

After Carbery left the arena, the game slipped into a bit of a fug.

The replacements came on and it became disjointed as the small crowd's already-waning attention started to drift.

Giovanni Licata is tackled by Ireland's John Ryan. Photo: David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile
Giovanni Licata is tackled by Ireland's John Ryan. Photo: David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile

Former Ireland coach Eddie O'Sullivan described the performance as "abysmal" but that seemed very, very harsh. Disjointed, certainly, but there were good moments.

Most of them came when Carbery was running the show behind a dominant pack and it was Ireland's variation in attack within the '22 that stood out most as Dave Kearney, Andrew Conway and the out-half himself ran in tries.

Jordi Murphy came up with the ball after a dominant maul, while Kieran Marmion charged down Ian McKinley's clearing kick and pounced to round off the win, while the Italians enjoyed some first-half success with their maul as Maxime Mbanda crossed, while Carlo Canna took advantage of Jordan Larmour's loss of focus to score a second.

For Schmidt, there will be much to consider before the team head to the Algarve on Wednesday.

There's every likelihood that not all 43 players will make that plane, with debutant Mike Haley one of those at risk of missing out.

Ireland's World Cup campaign will be available to Virgin and eir customers
Ireland's World Cup campaign will be available to Virgin and eir customers

"The coaching staff we will meet tomorrow morning after having had a look at the game and have a chat about probably who we think is putting their foot forward in the best possible manner and also look at guys who were maybe chasing their tail and need to demonstrate a little bit more," he said on Saturday.

Harsh

"If we think we do need to trim the squad a little bit, as harsh as it will be, then collectively we will make those decisions.

"Individually, I will make contact with and hopefully have time to meet with players, if not then it is that phone call they do not want to receive and I don't want to really deliver."

Unfortunately for both parties, those conversations have to happen as the World Cup looms.

Schmidt name-checked a host of players, but was far less effusive about Jack Carty's performance off the bench and was again luke-warm on Tadhg Beirne.

It wasn't an easy day to advance claims, but Chris Farrell and Jean Kleyn probably did the most apart from the excellent Carbery.

Ultimately though, there was little on offer to move Schmidt's needle in the few remaining crunch calls.

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