Tuesday 11 December 2018

Ireland may use both Johnny Sexton and Joey Carbery

Carbery prefers out-half but excels in the full-back role. Photo: David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile
Carbery prefers out-half but excels in the full-back role. Photo: David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile

Rúaidhrí O'Connor

Although ostensibly they are competing for the same position in the Ireland squad, the scope is there for Johnny Sexton and Joey Carbery to take the field together on Saturday.

Carbery has played almost all of his rugby this season at full-back and while he said yesterday he has mostly been operating at out-half in Ireland training, the scope is there to bring his abilities on to the field in tandem with Sexton from the No 15 shirt.

There is a need to get minutes under the Athy youngster's belt, he has only played 22 since November and they came at full-back against Montpellier in the European Champions Cup three weeks ago.

Although he almost came on for Sexton who was cramping up at the end of Saturday's win over France in Paris, he ended up an unused replacement and there must be a concern for his match-fitness if he is required to take over from his Leinster colleague at any time in the next few weeks.

Carbery prefers out-half but excels in the full-back role, coming into the line as a second distributor and counter-attacking well.

While Rob Kearney has been the main man for the entirety of Joe Schmidt's time in charge, there may be scope for some rotation for the Italy game this week and skills and kicking coach Richie Murphy says they have considered the idea of picking both Sexton and Carbery.

"Definitely, it's been considered," he said.

"When he's sitting on the bench, he's not only covering No 10, we know that he can slot in to '15' pretty easily and he's played a lot of his rugby there. So it's definitely something we've considered."

Carbery was asked about his own preparation in Carton House where he has largely been training in the out-half slot.

"Pretty much 10," he said. "I've been jumping in at 10 - a little bit of 15 as well just in case, to keep it ticking over, but the majority has been at 10."

The coaches have much to consider when it comes to the configuration of their back-three.

"It's just trying to get the balance right, isn't it?" Murphy said. "Obviously, Rob gives us a massive amount of certainty at full-back with his aerial skills and stuff like that.

"So it's just a matter of trying to fit the players into the back-line that we feel are ready to bring us forward from week to week.

"Joey is an incredible player, and obviously a beautiful broken-field runner, so whether he got a run at full-back it would definitely add things to us in relation to some of our attack but on the other side, it might take away in other things."

Murphy has no concern over Johnny Sexton's second-half penalty miss, disputing the notion that the out-half has a blind-spot.

"I don't believe there is," he said.

"We go down the line that every kick is a straight kick. You are kicking on a target in behind the goals so where you are on the pitch really doesn't make any difference.

"We have been working on something for a couple of weeks. It was just a case that the kick was from that position when he missed it. There is obviously a massive focus on the 15 on the 22 by everybody outside of us.

"It's a kick like any other kick, just get on with it."

Of course, Sexton more than made up for his miss with the last-gasp winner and Murphy was delighted with the skills on display in the build-up and the kick that won it.

"It was incredible to get up from cramp, have a little stretch and then go and do that," he said.

"But 45 metres is well within Johnny's range especially when he hits them well.

"And then, I suppose, the good thing about being really further out is you have to concentrate on really hitting through the ball.

"Sometimes if you in are a little bit close you right try and steer it over so I think the big thing was having the confidence to go and do it and having the reps behind you to know you are going to be able to do it when the pressure comes on.

"The drop-goal comes down to a hell of a lot of hard work that was done outside of that game.

"I have known Johnny a very long time, 12 years maybe, and I can think of definitely over the last eight years hundreds of drop goals being hit after practice. I don't think any out-half will shy away from the opportunity to drop one of them but it takes a bit to do it in a situation like that.

"The work that's gone through the whole start, the re-start, Hendy(Iain Henderson), Earlsy (Keith Earls) high ball, the work in the tight, the ability hold onto the ball to create the opportunity was massive.

"It was an incredible moment. I lost the rag on the sideline. The manner in which we finished the game was massively strong. It will give us a massive boost coming into this week. We have to park that now and look forward."

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