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Calm, confident Carty ready for limelight after patient wait outside the fold

‘Whether I go to Japan or Connacht, I’m excited about how the season is going’

THE MEMORY HAS stuck with him.

And yet it hasn’t consumed Jack Carty. Hasn’t latched on, festered or made him embittered enough to create some negatively-fuelled determination.

He’s a more balanced character than that, but the night of his 21st birthday party remains crystalised in his mind none-the-less. A night when he felt just a little cut adrift from his sporting ambitions as peers were continuing a rapid rise up the ranks and taking starting jerseys at the Sportsground.

An early-season fixture in the 2012/13 campaign featured Robbie Henshaw and Kieran Marmion in Connacht back-line. Carty had trained through pre-season with the western province, but Dan Parks and Craig Ronaldson were handed the reins that night. And Carty didn’t need to enact a contingency plan for his birthday bash back in Athlone.

Six years on, he celebrates his 27th birthday today in the heart of an Ireland international team and painfully close to forcing his way into the World Cup squad.

Some men are ear-marked from very tender years, Carty is one of those who has had to work and sustain the chaise to the top echelon over a longer stretch of time. That involves a considerable amount of casting aside doubt, powering through detractors and persistently proving a willingness to build upon his supreme innate skill-set.

The reward comes today, his first start in the Test arena.

jack-carty Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

“In the early part of my career there were a lot of ups and downs,” admits the Buccaneers clubman.

“I think what I had this year was just consistency throughout the whole year. 

“There were a number of things which helped that. (New Connacht coach Andy) Friend has come in and given me confidence and licence to kind of play what I see. I’ve probably matured a small bit in terms of selection of what I’m actually doing on the pitch as well.

“And I think off the field in terms of what I’m trying to do – my process with goal-kicking, line-kicking and then tackling I think – that’s been massive as well.”

The latter is an area Joe Schmidt makes a habit of commending his half-backs on. And when it came time to speak about Carty, the Kiwi hailed a willingness to make an impact in Twickenham long after the contest had gotten beyond Ireland.

“He came off the bench and two of the tackles he made were outstanding,” said Schmidt, “he got off the line, he chopped the player very quickly. Those are the elements we’d love to see.”

That would seem to sum up the changes in Carty that have helped him rise from provincial to international playmaker. The rugby brain, terrific game-reading and skill were always within him. Now he feels he is working more efficiently, attacking tasks voraciously to get the most out of his abilities.

“I would have said before that I was hard-working but I think it was about being more pragmatic and smarter in how I do things during the week and I think that’s all come together.”

A Six Nations debut means Carty arrived under the Team Ireland umbrella late in this World Cup cycle and has had limited opportunities to impress through replacement duties thus far. However, Schmidt has given the Connacht man a solid base to work from today with provincial team-mates Bundee Aki and Kieran Marmion stationed either side of him in the back division.

“It’s great that he has that familiarity inside and outside,” says Marmion, whose own importance to Schmidt’s side is growing after Conor Murray’s injury.

kieran-marmion-and-jack-carty-after-the-game Marmion and Carty after the win over Italy. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

“That always helps as a player. You know what people are going to do, you know their tendencies. That allows him just to play his natural game and boss the other lads around him.

He’s just got better and better. He’s full of confidence at the moment. I think that’s what you’ll see at the weekend.

“We know each other inside out, we’ve played with each other since we were 16. We’ll bounce off each other, help each other out in directing the team around the park and just play our natural games really. We’ll try and look after the ball, the field position and take it from there.”

Cardiff and the Principality Stadium is never a place where results come easy for Ireland, certainly not against Wales. There will be no such mixed memories for Carty, however, he was on Ireland’s bench during the wash-out that was the Six Nations finale.

No shortage of lessons from that day.

“The last time in Cardiff I just tried to take as many (mental) pictures as I could. when there was space in behind, when the line was a bit high and managed to get Jacob away down the left.

“I suppose it’s recognising what the pictures are and trying to adapt to them.”

If Carty can manage to assemble those pictures into a performance that lifts Ireland’s hopes after a torrid day out in London last weekend, then he will have made a very strong case to go to Japan.

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He jokes that if he could turn the clock back he would have done more speed work and perhaps build on some fleeting past experience as a fullback, versatility in a 31-man World Cup squads is far more than an extra string in a bow. Joey Carbery was Schmidt’s top choice to flick between 10 and 15, but his injury coupled with Jonathan Sexton’s slow return to full fitness could now see Carty or Ross Byrne playing a more important role than anyone expected in big World Cup fixtures ahead.

Schmidt will submit his 31-man squad to World Rugby on Sunday – though he will delay seven days before announcing it publicly – but like every good player with their head screwed on, Carty must try to take the looming opportunities in Japan out of the equation in order to showcase his best this weekend.

jack-carty Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

“It’s strange,” says the just-turned-27-year-old, “for the whole summer and pre-season, you are probably thinking about that 31-man squad and then when this week comes along, even though it’s like a couple of days away, you actually manage to forget about it because you are thinking about playing at the weekend.

So it actually is nearly a nice distraction that I have a game at the weekend and I don’t have to worry about what happens after that.

I’m just fully focused on giving my best performance for the team. If we can deliver a performance after last week, it will help me and it will help everyone else.”

With a prodigious skill-set, Carty has waited too long for this opportunity to let anything else overshadow it. He has felt the sting of being left outside looking in, celebrating a birthday while his friends celebrate a professional win, but he is firmly in the Test rugby club now and he can afford to be philosophical about the twists in the road that took him here.

“Some fellas get their Test debut at 20 or 21. I had to wait until I was 26. I suppose I’m happy enough with that.

“It was similar in Connacht.. I remember Marms and Robbie were playing at the age of 18 or 19 and I didn’t break in for another two years. I’m just happy I’m getting an opportunity to steer the ship on Saturday.

“At the time (of his 21st) you’re thinking ‘when am I going to get my opportunity?’ But looking back now it’s probably something that put me in the position where I am in today.

“Obviously that period of time when I didn’t play in the run-in to the Pro12 (title, due to injury) as it was at the time, that could have been the making of where I am today. You kind of have to look back on things with a pinch of salt because you never know what way it’s going to go.”

And armed with that wisdom, he’s intent on not letting Schmidt’s imminent tight selection call land a blow on the momentum in his own game.

“I wouldn’t say it all boils down to this weekend.

“Regardless of how it goes, whether I go to Japan or whether I go back with Connacht, I’m excited about whatever way the season is going. I am happy with where my game is at at the moment and I’m just hoping that I can deliver a performance and that the team can give a really good performance.”

Wales

15. Hallam Amos
14. Owen Lane
13. Scott Williams
12. Owen Watkin
11. Steff Evans
10. Jarrod Evans
9. Aled Davies

1. Rhys Carré
2. Ryan Elias
3. Samson Lee
4. Adam Beard
5. Bradley Davies
6. Aaron Shingler
7. James Davies
8. Josh Navidi (captain)

Replacements:

16. Elliot Dee
17. Rob Evans
18. Leon Brown
19. Jake Ball
20. Ross Moriarty
21. Tomos Williams
22. Rhys Patchell
23. Jonah Holmes

Ireland

15. Will Addison
14. Andrew Conway
13. Chris Farrell
12. Bundee Aki
11. Jacob Stockdale
10. Jack Carty
9. Kieran Marmion

1. Dave Kilcoyne
2. Niall Scannell
3. John Ryan
4. James Ryan
5. Iain Henderson
6. Tadhg Beirne
7. Peter O’Mahony (captain)
8. Jack Conan.

Replacements:

16. Rory Best
17. Andrew Porter 
18. Tadhg Furlong
19. Devin Toner
20. Jordi Murphy
21. Luke McGrath 
22. Garry Ringrose
23. Dave Kearney

About the author:

Sean Farrell

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