'Those two have become really important to us' - Joe Schmidt explains thinking behind out-half selection for England clash
Opportunity knocks for Ross Byrne as Joe Schmidt says the Leinster out-half has a real chance of making the World Cup if he performs well in his first senior Ireland start on Saturday.
With Joey Carbery in a race to be fit for the tournament opener against Scotland on September 22, Schmidt has turned to the 24-year-old Dubliner to make his case.
Byrne’s prospects of making the final 31-man squad looked remote when he wasn’t selected for the Six Nations.
When Carbery injured his hamstring against the Scots, Connacht’s Jack Carty came off the bench in three Six Nations games and was used as a replacement against Italy two weeks’ ago.
But Byrne has leap-frogged the Athlone native into the starting XV and now has a major chance to make the final cut, although Schmidt suggested that Carty will be given ample game-time to show his wares.
"He's trained really well and it's not his debut, he's had time with us before so that we've got a lot of confidence in him anyway and I think he built his way through the season," Schmidt said of Byrne as he prepared to depart the squad’s base in Portugal this morning.
"I thought he was maybe not as impressive as Jack early in the (last) season, and I think those two have become really important to us.
"Joey has done well this week. Johnny, he's fine, but he missed a bit of time with his thumb so he's a little bit behind and we know how well he plays for us, we don't feel that he needs a lot of time with the experience that he's got.
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"So, for us, the guys that need the time are probably Ross and Jack and they've got the opportunity to do that this weekend, that they'll share a bit of time, I'd say, in the middle.
"Yeah they were always really important because it is such a specialist position, but they probably wouldn't have had this opportunity as much.
"Joey, especially on the back of his 50 minutes against Italy, I thought he was as good as I've seen him. I thought he controlled the game really well, he's always a threat individually running and carrying the ball, but I just thought his control of the game was very, very good.
"So for him the frustration is not being able to get that opportunity to continue that, it's probably a frustration for us as well but it's somebody else's opportunity and I know that Ross has trained well this week and is very, very motivated to do the job for us on Saturday.”
One thing Schmidt must consider is how Byrne and Carty fit into his system, with the Leinster man arguably a more like-for-like replacement for first-choice No 10 Johnny Sexton.
"That's probably a fair observation,” he said.
"I think Ross's ability to control the game, it's one of the things that was defining between Joey and him at Leinster probably in that Ross ran the game and Joey ran really well individually but I think it's also something that comes with a rhythm and game time.
"Jack, whenever he came off the bench for us in the Six Nations, I thought he did a super job.
"So we have a lot of confidence in Jack being able to control the game and we do think he can bring a bit of a change up off the bench.
"Either way, I think they'll both get a bit of game time on Saturday to demonstrate what they can bring to the game."
Schmidt has also handed a second start to Munster lock Jean Kleyn as he tries to give the South African, who only qualified to play for Ireland on residency grounds three weeks’ ago, as much time in the shirt as possible before the World Cup.
"The thing is we gave him some things to work on from last time and we want to see if those can materialise on Saturday," he said.
"Because he's so new in, we felt that it was a priority to give him the time. Again, it is a fickle balance at the moment.
"Dev knows our game inside out so needed less of the time, Iain Henderson has just trained so well this week, we're looking forward to seeing him out there and it also gives Tadhg Beirne the opportunity to be that cover-all back row, second row.
"I'm not saying he's not good enough to start in either of those positions but he's nice security, having him covering all five of those back five positions, albeit No 7 we'd probably need to mix and match somebody but he can cover Nos 6, 8 or 5.”
A number of players sat out training earlier in the week, but Schmidt said Carbery is the only major concern in the squad.
"Yeah they haven't sat out training all week, they've gone in and out of training so Jack Conan and Dave Kilcoyne trained today and are looking really good, I'd expect that they will both be involved next week,” he said.
"Again Jack has had plenty of time with us, we felt against Italy we wanted to give Tommy (O’Donnell), Jordi (Murphy) and Rhys (Ruddock) the opportunity, this week it was the other guys and we just feel that Jack needs another week just because he was a bit slow into the pre-season, but he should be fine, and so should Dave Kilcoyne.
"Johnny (Sexton) ran early in the week and so we're just buttoning off him a little bit because we don't need him until next week or the week after, depending on how these two guys go on Saturday.
"We're also conscious that Johnny needs enough time for himself so that he can be comfortable going into the first round of the Rugby World Cup, so that will be part of the balance, we have a look at this game on Saturday and then project things forward from there.
"Robbie trained early in the week and did a good bit of work today, and again he'll be really keen after watching Chris doing pretty well and Garry, as he always is, be really good for us, and Bundee and Garry getting a chance this week, I think Robbie will be motivated to put his best foot forward next week.”
The 23 players selected for Saturday’s game and three reserves, John Ryan, Will Addison and Jordi Murphy will travel to London this afternoon, while the other 14 squad members will return to Ireland.
They’ll gather together at their Kildare base on Sunday ahead of next week’s clash with Wales in Cardiff.
And Schmidt is keeping his fingers crossed that he won’t have lost any more bodies to injury against a physical English side.
"It is and one of the things we've got to be absolutely committed to is going as hard as we can in this game because invariably when you start trying to look after yourself, you get the timing slightly wrong, you're a little bit hesitant, and that's when you can pick up something you'd rather not have,” he said.
"We'll be hoping to get out of the game free of injury and I know that Eddie (Jones) will be hoping the same thing with the English lads, they've already named their 31, they have some guys who haven't had much game time."