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'Mate, you'd be a brave man telling Johnny Sexton he wasn't playing'

Michael Cheika suggested that Sexton should be worried about Joey Carbery’s starting chance.

Murray Kinsella reports from Brisbane

‘THEY’RE NOT STARTING Sexton?”

So went the questioning pretty much everywhere the Irish media ventured around Brisbane yesterday, where there was widespread surprise around Joey Carbery’s inclusion at out-half in Ireland’s team to face the Wallabies on Saturday.

One man who didn’t appear to be too taken aback by the news was Wallabies coach Michael Cheika.

Jonathan Sexton is replaced by Joey Carbery Carbery will start at 10 tomorrow ahead of Sexton. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

The Australian head coach was Johnny Sexton’s boss at Leinster and pointed out that Schmidt wouldn’t have had an easy job in letting the 32-year-old that he was being benched for the first Test at Suncorp Stadium.

“Maybe they want to give him one rest, maybe that was the deal – to have a rest and play a couple,” said Cheika.

“Mate, you’d be a brave man telling Sexton he wasn’t playing. I tell you right now, I had to deal with him for a few years, telling him he wasn’t playing, he almost ripped my head off every time.”

While Carbery is not particularly well known among the Australian rugby public, Cheika has been impressed with the 22-year-old’s emergence for Leinster and Ireland.

Indeed, the mischievous Cheika suggested that Sexton should even be a little worried by soon-to-be Munster man Carbery getting a start.

“Look, the other lad [Carbery] is a fine player,” said Cheika. “I’ve seen him play a lot on telly and live, he’s got a real skillset.

“To be honest, I don’t think Johnny will be keen to give him the chance to play either.

“To us, the focus is about ourselves, as it is in rugby all the time. You’ve got to do your best and see how that presents against the opposition’s best.”

Across town a couple of hours later at the Hilton Hotel, where Ireland are based this weekend, Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt said the experience in the backline around Carbery will be important tomorrow.

Joey Carbery during training Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Schmidt stressed that there will be “nothing easy” about Carbery dealing with the likes of Michael Hooper and David Pocock in defence and attack, and while the Ireland boss agreed there was an element of risk in starting Carbery, he felt that doing the opposite would also be dangerous.

“I think there’s risk in every selection,” said Schmidt. “Is there a greater risk in not making the decision?

“If we continue to use Johnny solely at number 10 for the next 18 months, is there more risk in that. It’s a risk we’ve taken before that was not particularly successful.”

Schmidt is referring to the 2015 World Cup here, of course. Sexton was injured for the quarter-final of that competition, meaning Ian Madigan had to step into the number 10 shirt.

Madigan simply hadn’t been exposed to enough top-level Test starts before that occasion, although he was not the only man in that category in the defeat to Argentina as Ireland’s lack of depth was shown up.

Carbery has been through a tough time mentally over the past month, pondering the possibilities for his career and ending up with his decision to join Munster.

“He’s been really good,” said Schmidt of Carbery’s demeanour since last week. “I spoke to Johann van Graan on Wednesday morning [last week] and he said he was utterly convinced that Joey wasn’t going to Munster.

“When I said that to Joey, when he told me that going to Munster was what he’d like to do, I said, ‘I thought you were going to stay’ and he said, ‘Yeah, I thought I was too’. So it was a tough decision for him but I think he did a really good job of at least putting it off.

Joe Schmidt with Joey Carbery Schmidt is backing Carbery to deliver. Source: Oisin Keniry/INPHO

“I thought he played really well. There were some moments he came on, particularly the Pro14 final – obviously, he didn’t get on in Bilbao – but in the Pro14 final, I thought he did a really good job.

“It is difficult. He’s comfortable at Leinster, he loves playing for Leinster. He’s really well coached in Leinster, he’s playing with super players in Leinster, so to go outside that comfort zone is a big step for a young player.”

Carbery now faces another difficult challenge but on the pitch this time.

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Murray Kinsella

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