McGrath and 'fierce competitor' Carbery to run the Ireland show

Joe Schmidt is keen to see his halfbacks and others stand up against Italy tomorrow.

Murray Kinsella reports from Chicago

JOHNNY SEXTON AND Conor Murray have been the dominant figures in Joe Schmidt’s Ireland team so often in recent years, meaning their absence in Chicago makes tomorrow’s meeting with Italy [KO 8pm Irish time, eir Sport] all the more intriguing. 

With the frontline halfbacks at home, Schmidt has handed Joey Carbery and Luke McGrath the opportunity to the guide his side in their first game of a busy November window.

Out-half Carbery turned 23 yesterday and is rapidly accelerating in terms of his maturity as a 10 thanks to his summer move to Munster, which has already resulted in eight appearances in his favoured position – six of them starts in consecutive games.

Joey Carbery Carbery at the Chicago Bulls' game on Wednesday. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

“Joey’s an affable character and a fierce competitor so it’s not overly surprising that he’s fitted in well at Munster, especially because he knew so many of the players before he went there,” said Schmidt upon naming Carbery to start against Italy.

“His running game is a strength as is his work ethic, so that’s always a good starting point. At the same time, being new into an environment and having to run the game is a challenge but I think he’s doing a good job of it and he seems to be getting increasingly comfortable with it.”

McGrath gets the nod at scrum-half ahead of fellow tourist John Cooney, with the Leinster man set to win cap number seven versus Conor O’Shea’s side.

Kieran Marmion, the third scrum-half named in Ireland’s November squad, was left out of the travelling party for Chicago in order to get game time with Connacht this weekend.

“Kieran’s just back from an ankle injury and John has been nursing a knock to the shoulder so Luke was an obvious choice to start the game,” said Schmidt.

“He’s earned the opportunity, being sharp around the fringes and generating good tempo with his distribution, especially in the Wasps game, so it’ll be great for him if we can provide a really positive platform for him.

“We’ll be watching how Kieran goes on Saturday against the Dragons and John is likely to get time off the bench. He’s continued on from where he finished up last season, doing a great job for Ulster.”

Elsewhere in Schmidt’s team, Niall Scannell gets another big opportunity at hooker, having impressed in Australia during the summer.

Andrew Porter, Niall Scannell and Jack McGrath Andrew Porter, Niall Scannell and Jack McGrath form the front row. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

The Munster hooker had a delayed start to this season due to a shoulder injury but gets his chance to make a statement at Soldier Field.

“We felt that Niall would benefit from getting some game time but it’s a competitive position so the challenge for him is to hit the ground running in Chicago,” said Schmidt.

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“He is a strong set-piece hooker. He has a high work rate and has done some very solid defensive work for Munster so far this season, making plenty of tackles with a very high percentage of success.”

Jordan Larmour is another exciting inclusion in Ireland’s starting team, getting the nod at fullback after what Schmidt felt were his “really promising” cameos off the bench during the Six Nations and June tour of Australia.

Tadhg Beirne joins Larmour in making his first start for Ireland, while there is a lack of consistent Test experience in other members of the XV like Andrew Conway, Andrew Porter, Quinn Roux and Jack Conan.

Captain Rhys Ruddock is a relative veteran with 19 caps and further balancing the team are centres Garry Ringrose and Bundee Aki, who have 14 and nine caps each but almost feel like stalwarts.

Their composure will be helpful, but Schmidt is looking forward to seeing how his team perform without the likes of Sexton and Murray calling the shots.

Jordan Larmour Jordan Larmour is at fullback for Ireland. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

“That’s one of the things that we’ve tried to afford not just the halfbacks but Rhys as well, and potentially Jordan from the back and Garry’s played a lot of Tests for us now, as has Bundee,” said Schmidt.

“So those guys starting to run the show or help those who are running the show, Luke and Joey, that’s a really positive thing for us because inevitably you lean on the leaders that have been there and continue to play really well for us.

“If there’s nowhere to lean, you have to stand up and face the breeze yourself, and hopefully that’s something we see them do really well.”

Originally published at 07.15

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Murray Kinsella

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