Carbery at Ireland training this week, with Byrne in the background. Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Farrell challenges Carbery and Byrne to knock Sexton 'off his perch'

The 36-year-old remains clear first-choice at out-half for Ireland.

THE PLAUDITS AND tributes are all thoroughly deserved as Johnny Sexton gets set to captain Ireland tomorrow on the occasion of his 100th cap. Everyone can see he is still the main man in Andy Farrell’s team.

That’s impressive at the age of 36 but it’s also an ongoing concern. Right now, there is no genuine contender for Sexton’s throne.

26-year-old Joey Carbery will back him up from the Ireland bench tomorrow, while 22-year-old Harry Byrne is in Farrell’s wider squad but only has one cap against the US so far.

Some Ireland fans are worried about the fact that Sexton is still clearly so far ahead of the rest of the out-halves in the country at his age, but Ireland boss Farrell isn’t of that mind.

“It’s certainly not a worry,” said Farrell yesterday. “Johnny is a world-class player so why would I worry about that?”

And yet, Farrell does want to see some heat come onto his skipper.

“What do we want to see from Joey and Harry? We want to see them pushing Johnny,” continued the Ireland boss.

“Johnny isn’t just going to stand to the side and say, ‘There you guys, off you go and take over now.’ We want those guys and the other 10s to challenge Johnny and knock him off his perch. That’s what competition is all about in a squad.”

While Carbery and Byrne clearly need game time at Test level to progress, Farrell insists that just being in Ireland camp is also key to their development.

“They love the honest feedback and that’s how we are with them. They want to know how they can improve and what they have to do to improve.

“A lot of the time at this level because of the speed and intensity of training, it’s the calmness of thought in that type of position. Learning to deal with that, with the pressure of trying to understand how best you can get prepared in such a short space of time, it’s daunting enough.

“Joey has been out for quite some time, as you know. Harry is pretty inexperienced in that regard. We hope this experience will stand to them.”

Sexton’s words in recent times underline that he is hopeful of playing on through to the 2023 World Cup in France and it’s not hard to imagine him still leading the team at that stage.

The obvious risk is that any injury for Sexton would then leave an underprepared replacement trying to step up. Again, Farrell insists it’s not a big concern.

“We’re not worried about that at all,” he said. “If Johnny is healthy and competing and playing at the top of his game, again, we want people to knock him off his perch.

“I have absolutely no doubt that if that does happen that the likes of Joey and Harry and Jack Carty, Billy Burns, whoever that may be, it has to make them a better player anyway if they want the shirt. If they don’t want the shirt, then that won’t happen.

“He’s not going to give it up easily and it’s not just Johnny. It’s the other guys in the squad – that’s what you want. You don’t want to just hand something over to someone that doesn’t deserve it. That’s not a squad.”

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