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Always a drama at number ten - the options available to Andy Farrell

Joey Carbery, Ciaran Frawley and Harry Byrne are on the way up – but can they overtake Johnny Sexton before next year’s World Cup?

THERE HAS BEEN a lot of talk this week about No10. Boris. Pincher. Sunak. Javid. It is the best soap opera the British have produced since Coronation Street.

Way down here, by the central-eastern coast of New Zealand, the issues at ten have taken a somewhat different tone. Johnny Sexton has been passed fit; Harry Byrne is back in training; Joey Carbery is back in fashion; Ciaran Frawley is waiting for his chance.

A year out from the World Cup, nothing really seems to have changed since the last World Cup or the one before that, namely that if Sexton goes down, can anyone else step up? Here is where the tens stand three days out from the second test in New Zealand, 17 months out from kick off in France.

SEXTON

He’s nothing left to prove. Even if his resume is missing a World Cup medal, this can still be considered one of the great Irish sporting careers. Grand Slam winner; three times a Six Nations champion; four times a Champions Cup medallist, you wonder why he still bothers.

A week ago he failed a HIA1 – (a head injury assessment). He then passed his next two HIA tests which meant it could not be confirmed that he was concussed at all.

So, he’s clear to play this Saturday, but after over a century of caps and 36 birthdays, do we really need to see him again this weekend, even if the medics say he is good to go? Can we not just see what someone else is made of in a big test arena?

“Johnny is world-class,” says Ireland’s attack coach, Mike Catt. “He demands high standards and ultimately you want to get to a player-driven environment.

“That’s what Johnny brings, a lot of confidence around him too. Johnny being there will always help younger players and that’s the growth in his game. He has been able to help these young guys understand what it’s like to play in that international environment.

“Although he has got his own game to focus on, when he’s not around or he’s not training, he’s still got a huge role to play off the field.”

johnny-sexton-looks-on-during-the-second-half-after-going-off-injured Sexton sits on the bench after being subbed. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

CARBERY

He’s no longer the new kid on the block. In fact he turns 27 in November, entering the peak years for a pro. Yet why is it that we are still looking at Joey Carbery in the same way we did way back in 2016, when he made his debut for Ireland in Chicago?

That was meant to be his coming-of-age moment but here we are, in a new decade, and still waiting for the new kid to mature into the delivery man. As it happened, he did a good job in Eden Park last Saturday, after coming on as a replacement for Sexton, and was unlucky not to be awarded a try. With the hands of a ten also but the feet of a 15, maybe full-back is his future.

“I think what Joey’s good at is attacking the line and there were two or three opportunities there last Saturday where he did precisely that,” said Catt. “He showed and go’d a couple of times. The try (that was ultimately disallowed), we can argue all day really about the decision – but that’s Joey at his best and we want to see more of that.

“The more we can see Johnny, Joey, Ciaran Frawley, Harry Byrne on the front foot the more we’ll get out of them and that’s his strength. So it’s the people around them, what they do but he’s fitted in nicely and he’ll grow on the back of it.”

FRAWLEY

Look out for this guy. He can kick, pass, run and tackle like no other Irish ten bar Sexton. Is he better as a ten or a twelve?  “Just play, we just want to see him play,” said Catt.

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On this tour they have a chance to see. There is Saturday’s second test, then the second Maori All Blacks match and finally the third test. Really, Frawley has to start next week in Wellington against the Maori All Blacks and then get some game-time in the final test. If he is good enough, let’s find out now, rather than at next year’s World Cup.

irelands-ciaran-frawley Ciaran Frawley in action against the Maoris.

“He’s very calm, has got a great presence, is a big guy too,” said Catt. “His kicking accuracy is exceptional, out of hand or kicking at goal, and he’s done exceptionally well as a new face coming into a group that’s been together for two years.

“He’s very comfortable leading a team but the next growth for him is if he is able to really slow it down and take a backward step. He’s still a ‘12’ in his head so every breakdown he can be a bit frantic, but that will come with experience. But from an athlete’s point of view and a skill-based point of view, he’s good.”  

BYRNE

His brother Ross was unused in Australia on that tour four years ago and so far in New Zealand Harry has been inactive too, a hamstring injury curtailing his chances of making a name for himself. Everyone likes him – from Brian O’Driscoll to Farrell – but while it is premature to say time is running out, really, for a player of his ability, he should have a lot more ink on his CV.

“Harry returned from training on Monday,” said Catt, “and look, it’s always tough when you have to be on the sidelines on tour. But he’s a great professional. His knowledge of the game is very good so he’s got a lot of good ideas and is ready to voice them as well.

“So it’s just about getting him on the pitch and showing what he’s about because he’s very calm, he can control a team. He’s very good in front of the group so the future looks good for him.”

- Originally published at 09.00

About the author:

Garry Doyle  / reports from Dunedin

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