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Dublin: 8°C Tuesday 20 April 2021

Line-out options galore and plenty of runway for Carty in Cardiff

With no out-half on Ireland’s bench, Jack Carty could get time to stake his claim.

IRELAND TODAY UNVEILED their team to face Wales and, hopefully, deliver a response after a trouncing at the hands of England last weekend. Here is the team in full, and below some of our snap reactions to it.

Carty’s late call

Having made his Test debut in late February, Connacht’s chief playmaker will start his first international on the day of his 27th birthday this Saturday. 

It is a deserved, and delayed, call to the front line for Jack Carty who has excelled in Connacht’s attack in recent years before an upturn in his goal-kicking earned him a call-up to the Ireland setup.

The Roscommon man is vying with Ross Byrne for a third out-half slot in the Ireland squad for Japan. But with injury doubts still hovering over Joey Carbery and Jonathan Sexton yet to prove his fitness, the less experienced 10s in the pecking order may yet have a big part to play in the coming months.

Building the minute-count that denotes experience is important for the out-half hopefuls then. Joe Schmidt lamented not having more time to give either Carty or Byrne minutes on the field with the World Cup looming beyond two friendlies against Wales. However, the Leinster man was an unused member of the touring part to Australia last summer and Carty clocked up 31 minutes during a Six Nations campaign that quickly got beyond Ireland.

The Connacht star has racked up 57 minutes over the two Tests this month, but a start will give him a much improved platform to work from and show his wares.  And with no other recognised 10 in the squad, he could get an extended run before Schmidt reveals a possible alternative out-half.

Last week, Schmidt called it a ‘fair assessment to view Carty as a stylistic understudy to Carbery, while Byrne is more akin to Sexton. It will be intriguing to see whether Carty’s terrific attacking skill-set will be given license to ignite an Ireland attack that has looked decidedly blunt this year.

The Beirne Supremacy

Having been used as a replacement back row in the opening two warm-ups, today’s team announcement is the clearest indication yet that Schmidt is leaning towards including Tadhg Beirne among his four locks for Japan.

tadhg-beirne Beirne at training in Carton House today. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

The Munster man is now firmly in the slot marked 4/6, while this XV sees Iain Henderson slot into a dynamic looking second row partnership with James Ryan.

After his international days began with two pretty pedestrian outings, Jean Kleyn has dropped out of the matchday squad and his viability in the World Cup appears to have dramatically decreased.

Back three picture

There is better news for another adopted Munster man. Back three places are at an absolute premium and Andrew Conway is steadily proving to the head coach that he is an invaluable, assured presence both in the air and on the ground in attack mode.

Jacob Stockdale will hope to restore a little faith in his defensive reading on the other wing after his willingness to shoot was exploited viciously by England in Twickenham. His provincial team-mate Will Addison is given a chance to show his wares at fullback on his first outing of the season and Dave Kearney is in reserve, but you feel either would be a serious shock of a bolter if they made the plan from this juncture.

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O’Mahony’s move

Injury to Dan Leavy and Sean O’Brien was always going to leave Schmidt stretched for a number 7 at some point and this weekend is the game where the head coach will show his contingency plans.

With Beirne and Peter O’Mahony in the back row, Ireland not only have an array of line-out options to correct course after their travails at Twickenham, but there is a serious turnover threat at the breakdown.

peter-omahony-with-caleb-timu Peter O'Mahony with Caleb Timu of Australia. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

While the selection this weekend has the dials pointing in a positive direction for Beirne, O’Mahony popping up at number 7 is likely bad news for the other versatile back rows such as Rhys Ruddock, Jordi Murphy and possibly even CJ Stander.

O’Mahony, of course, has experience on the openside of the back row having excelled there during the series win over Australia, but he will resume blindside duties when it comes to selecting a strongest XV for Ireland.

Just one warm-up left

Maybe the outcomes of these warm-up fixtures don’t matter a jot, maybe the form promised is fleeting and 50-point drubbings will be made worthless by events to come at the World Cup proper. But they must serve some purpose with all the forward leaps sports science has made to influence selection of teams on this island.

If World Cup warm-ups are valuable for, y’know, warming players up ahead of a tournament then the preparation window for the men who have not yet featured this month is getting tight.

jonathan-sexton Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

It feels like every time a big match is on the horizon we’re fretting about the gap Jonathan Sexton has to bridge between this outing and his last. The previous confidence-shaking loss to England – on Six Nations opening weekend – saw Sexton pitch up after six weeks out of action.  Schmidt suggested that his star playmaker could potentially have played against Italy having ‘trained well on the Friday’. He wasn’t ready to face England at Twickenham and the head coach’s stated plan to get him 25 minutes this weekend is now shelved too.

No need to worry though, right? He’ll be flying fit next week, right? And we’ll hit the ground running against Scotland…

Robbie Henshaw and Keith Earls are the other two men in the same boat as Sexton, waiting on a warm-up appearance. It’s difficult to be optimistic of starting the tournament all guns blazing when three main totems of the back-line have not been seen together since the first Test of the year.

About the author:

Sean Farrell

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