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Dublin: 2°C Thursday 15 April 2021
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Schmidt may be forced to adjust plans as Sexton declared fit for England

The Ireland head coach was ‘really happy’ with Joey Carbery’s performance.

Schmidt speaking during his post-match press conference.
Schmidt speaking during his post-match press conference.
Image: Billy Stickland/INPHO

THE PERILS OF these high-risk work-outs. As Joey Carbery put his head in his hands and was carted down the tunnel, any semblance of atmosphere was drained from the Aviva Stadium.

From there, the contest fell flat and the minutes passed as if the clock was ticking backwards. Carbery wasn’t the only casualty from this first warm-up game. Rob Herring suffered a back strain, and later, Devin Toner rolled his ankle.

Joe Schmidt’s side may have negotiated their opening summer fixture but injuries, history has shown, are inevitable on these occasions. That there are three more games to come before Japan only adds to the concern. 

The immediate update was, to some degree, positive. An x-ray in the bowels of the stadium showed no fracture, but then again ligament damage could prove worse.

Once the initial swelling subsides, Ireland will get a better idea of the prognosis, but it will be a worrying 48 hours for Carbery and Schmidt. The World Cup campaign opener against Scotland is just six weeks down the track.  

Up until the 49th minute, the Munster out-half was a class above. It was a Carbery masterclass: kicking from hand, with the ball in hand, and even in defence. The 23-year-old playmaker was making a serious claim for the number 10 jersey.

For now, however, that debate remains for another day. Schmidt will hope for more ‘clarity’ over Carbery before Ireland fly out to Portugal for a warm-weather training camp on Wednesday, but it now seems likely that the head coach’s plans for the next five weeks will have to change. 

Connacht’s Jack Carty was the immediate beneficiary of Carbery’s misfortune as he got more minutes than previously envisaged this afternoon, producing an assured display at 10 off the bench.

Whatever the seriousness of Carbery’s injury, both Carty and Ross Byrne are set for more game-time over the course of the next three games, while Johnny Sexton has been declared fit to play against England at Twickenham in a fortnight.

Sexton, Schmidt says, was available for this first hit-out having fully recovered from the thumb injury he sustained in training earlier in the summer and could be set for a first appearance of the season in London on 24 August. 

Joey Carbery scores his sides first try Carbery was excellent up until his injury. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

While it would be tempting to wrap the Leinster captain up in cotton wool for as long as possible, Schmidt acknowledged the need for players to get minutes under their belt ahead of the tournament. 

“We don’t get back together until Wednesday so it gives us enough time to have a bit more clarity about Joey,” Schmidt said. “Then we may adjust our plans but we know we have to hit the ground running. We know how big the Scotland game is and we can’t really afford to have anyone underdone either.

“Johnny could have played today. He trained fully. Apparently, he trained very, very hard yesterday morning, which is great. I would anticipate that he would train fully in Portugal and that he would be available for England.”

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On Carbery’s performance, before he found himself twisting awkwardly under a heap of bodies, Schmidt was enthused by what he saw.

“I was really happy with Joey’s performance,” the Kiwi continued. “Defensively he got himself into the right places, and that’s a challenge sometimes. I thought he ran the game very well, obviously the variety of his kicking game and he is a dangerous runner with the ball. He finished the try with a nice carry but he almost got through the line a couple of times.

“He presents himself as the threat really well and links well. As a package, I thought Joey’s game was really tidy.

“He wouldn’t be the same player as Johnny, and he’s still building his game. Unfortunately, he’s had a few injuries this year that didn’t allow him that real continuity at 10 where he wants to play. He’ll be looking to build on the back of what he delivered today.”

While the players will be given a couple of days off, Schmidt and his management team will meet on Sunday to review the performance against Italy and decide on whether they will further prune their squad ahead of Portugal.

“I think we’ll see how the players came through today, but we are going to meet tomorrow morning after having had a look at the game this evening and then we’ll make a decision,” he added.

“I think we’ll probably travel with about 40 but it could be 43, just depending on [the fact that] we want to have good training numbers.

One of the problems, I think, is that as you branch off with a smaller squad, just keeping those guys up to speed with what we’re trying to develop. It becomes a little bit of a difficulty for us, especially if we pick up an injury.

“We’re playing England, Wales and Wales. Physically big teams and physically bigger than we are, therefore there tends to be a risk of attrition and we don’t want those other players to get too far away from us because we want them up to speed if they do miss out on that 31 in the end.

“Because, with 31 players I think it’s a very tight number that World Rugby limit you to. You know, they talk about player welfare but we have a six-day turnaround into a five-day turnaround and 31 players, that’s very, very complicated. And that’s all the teams. I’m not saying that’s just tough for us. I think all the teams have tight turnarounds at stages.”

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Ryan Bailey

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