Joe Schmidt wary of Australian flair as Ireland face stern test
Joey Carbery faces biggest challenge of career and strength of bench could prove crucial
Joey Carbery will start at outhalf for Ireland against Australia in Queensland. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho
So the Grand Slam champions and Leinster-infused Ireland rugby squad, bestriding the northern hemisphere like never before, pitch up Down Under against a southern hemisphere heavyweight. Hence, the first of this three-Test series against the Wallabies in Australia is just an altogether different proposition from even the full-on, tribalistic rivalry of the Six Nations.
Ireland know how to win in Twickenham and even Paris, but not so much in Australia, New Zealand and South Africa. There’s been one win, in Cape Town two seasons ago, since the last Irish series win here in Australia in 1979. There have been seven defeats against the Wallabies alone in Australia.
The Slam seems even less of a reference point with Joe Schmidt intent on using this game on its merits, resting two (Garry Ringrose and Dan Leavy) and leaving Cian Healy, Tadhg Furlong and Johnny Sexton on the bench after their contributions to Leinster’s Champions Cup and Pro14 double.
This is in addition to replacing the injured Rory Best with Rob Herring, thus again leaving Seán Cronin on the bench, from where he has won 52 of his 61 caps. But it is the selection of Joey Carbery at outhalf for the biggest game of the gifted 22-year-old’s career which has added another layer of intrigue.
It is all well and good Carbery seeking to acquire more experience at outhalf in Munster, but Schmidt has an obligation to invest some time in him there too. And unlike previous forays in the position for country and province, this time Carbery has all bar Ringrose of the backline at Twickenham he so impressively guided when a temporary replacement for Sexton.
“Yeah, it is important,” agreed Schmidt after unveiling his bold selection. “It’s always important because there’s going to be moments in the match where decisions have to be made on the fly, decisions have to be made quickly and if he can be helped with some of that decision-making so he just links or just slots in and he can get a kick away, you know, those sort of things, the more pressure you can take off him I think the easier it’s going to be.”
“But there’s going to be nothing easy about it. You’ve got Michael Hooper, David Pocock coming off the side of the scrum or coming up in your channel off a lineout, it’s going to be a really tough day for Joey to work his way through.”
This is the biggest test of Carbery’s career, but if not now then when? “I think there’s risk in every selection,” said Schmidt. “Is there a greater risk in not making the decision? If we continue to use Johnny solely at number 10 for the next 18 months, is there more risk in that? It’s a risk we’ve taken before that was not particularly successful.”
It wouldn’t be at all surprising if Michael Cheika uses Schmidt’s selection as a motivational tool for his Wallabies in that it is somehow disrespectful. He’s certainly used every opportunity to big Ireland up, and continued the theme yesterday.
“They believe they’re coming here to win 3-0; no doubt about it from what I’ve read and seen,” the former Leinster coach ventured yesterday, when repeating his assertion that this is the greatest Ireland team in history.
When this was relayed to him, Schmidt did his best to laugh it off.
“I don’t really do opinions. I’m boringly pragmatic, and I’d just say that this is an Irish side that the coaching staff are excited about putting out.”
Schmidt is fearful yet relishing the manner in which Australia’s nuanced rugby will test his players. Accordingly he described the All Blacks and the Wallabies as the best attacking teams in world rugby.
As to what it is that sets them apart, he said: “I think it’s their athletic profile and I think it’s their ability to play off turnover ball, their ability to counterattack with the speed and the deft touches that they have,” he said, citing how seldom Israel Folau is stopped by the first tackler and if so will at least offload. He also recalled how regularly the Wallabies opened up the Ireland defence in their last meeting and how they scored 34 points in losing to the All Blacks in Sydney last year before beating them in Brisbane.
“That’s how quickly they can score,” said Schmidt, citing Bernard Foley’s running and passing game, and his crosskicks to the aerially stunning Folau, ball-playing forwards such as Sekope Kepu and the acceleration of Hooper. “When you’re faced with that, it’s going to be a really good challenge for our guys to contain that sort of threat,” said Schmidt.
Their Super Rugby teams appear to have turned a corner and key men such as the rejuvenated Pocock and Folau, who missed their end-of-year tour, and others have hit form, as evidenced by the Waratahs’ 52-41 over the Reds last Saturday. That involved 13 of this match-day squad but, conceivably, such a loose game was not ideal preparation for Test-match rugby, especially against this Irish machine.
Despite Schmidt’s juggling, the Wallabies look even less settled, and Ireland have the stronger looking bench to finish off the job. Ireland might also be better prepared, frustrating home team and crowd alike by exposing the Wallabies wingers with their kicking game, and by controlling vast swathes of possession.
AUSTRALIA: Israel Folau (Waratahs); Marika Koroibete (Rebels), Samu Kerevi (Reds), Kurtley Beale (Waratahs), Dane Haylett-Petty (Rebels); Bernard Foley (Waratahs), Will Genia (Rebels); Scott Sio (Brumbies), Brandon Paenga-Amosa (Reds), Sekope Kepu (Waratahs), Izack Rodda (Reds), Adam Coleman (Rebels), David Pocock (Brumbies), Michael Hooper (Waratahs, capt), Caleb Timu (Reds).
Replacements: Tolu Latu (Waratahs), Allan Alaalatoa (Brumbies), Taniela Tupou (Reds), Rob Simmons (Waratahs), Lukhan Tui (Reds), Pete Samu (Brumbies), Nick Phipps (Waratahs), Reece Hodge (Rebels).
IRELAND: Rob Kearney (UCD/Leinster); Keith Earls (Young Munster/Munster), Robbie Henshaw (Buccaneers/Leinster), Bundee Aki (Galwegians/Connacht), Jacob Stockdale (Ballynahinch/Ulster); Joey Carbery (Clontarf/Leinster), Conor Murray (Garryowen/Munster); Jack McGrath (St Mary’s College/Leinster), Rob Herring (Ballynahinch/Ulster), John Ryan (Cork Constitution/Munster), James Ryan (UCD/Leinster), Iain Henderson (Ballynahinch/Ulster), Peter O’Mahony (Cork Constitution/Munster, capt) Jordi Murphy (Lansdowne/Leinster), CJ Stander (Shannon/Munster).
Replacements: Seán Cronin (St Mary’s College/Leinster), Cian Healy (Clontarf/Leinster), Tadhg Furlong (Clontarf/Leinster), Quinn Roux (Galwegians/Connacht), Jack Conan (Old Belvedere/Leinster), Kieran Marmion (Corinthians/Connacht), Johnny Sexton (St Mary’s College/Leinster), Jordan Larmour (St Mary’s College/Leinster).
Referee: Marius van der Westhuizen (South Africa).
Overall head to head: Played 33, Australia 21 wins, 1 draw, Ireland 11 wins.
Last three meetings: (2016) Ireland 27 Australia 24. (2014) Ireland 26 Australia 23. (2013) Ireland 15 Australia 32.
Forecast: Ireland to win.