Why Joe Schmidt could turn to one of his scrum-halves to provide emergency cover on the wing
The timeline on Joey Carbery’s return to fitness comes as good news for the out-half and Ireland.
It could, however, have a knock-on effect for someone else further down the chain of command.
Joe Schmidt still has a lot of decisions to make and one of those will be whether to take two or three scrum-halfs to the World Cup.
In 2015, Schmidt chose to split his 31-man roster between 17 forwards and 14 backs, with Ian Madigan the designated third scrum-half for emergency purposes.
This time around, the four to six weeks uncertainty over the return date for Carbery and the long-haul ingredient that is Japan, compared to the hop across the Irish Sea in 2015, may just cause a change of heart.
The Athy man will be burdened with the rehabilitation of injury and hitting the ground running when he does return in green.
There is consolation from how smooth Carbery looked in his first hit-out of the season.
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The additional layer of learning the scrum-half role may just be a step too far.
It is not beyond the bounds of reason that Conor Murray, Marmion and McGrath will join Jonathan Sexton, Carbery and Jack Carty in a six-man crew of half-backs.
This would probably reduce the seats for outside backs to eight with Will Addison, Dave Kearney, Andrew Conway and Jordan Larmour in danger.
Why start Luke McGrath in Ireland’s first pre-season match when, by Wednesday, four of the five players already axed had not even played one minute?
Perhaps, McGrath and Kieran Marmion were neck and neck in Carton House and Schmidt gave each a half against Italy to prove their worth.
Maybe. Maybe not.
Schmidt could be looking at taking three nines, with Marmion an emergency option on the wing, rather than three tens, with Carbery playing the same role in covering both half-back positions.
Looking back, the Connacht man has had more professional experience on the wing than Carbery does at scrum-half.
More importantly, there have been ‘big time’ minutes played there for Schmidt’s Ireland.
Marmion completed seven minutes there against New Zealand in November 2016 and an entire half there against Australia one week later.
In those cameos, the scrappy half-back did not look out of place, despite being targeted by the Wallabies.
There were even two takedowns on Israel Folau, one of the most difficult assignments in world rugby.
“I guess it’s great exposure to be out there,” said Marmion back then.
“Even though I wasn’t in my main position, just being on the pitch, I can take a lot of experience from that.
“Hopefully, moving forward, I can push on and keep going.”
Schmidt won’t have forgotten how Marmion stepped up to the plate in a challenging position.