Time against Joey Carbery as Ireland look at Plan B
‘In some ways it’s come out of Joey’s control in relation to staking a claim for his place in the squad’
Jack Carty: “He’s trained well this week, trained very well today, so we’ve got faith in Jack,” said Ireland kicking and skills coach Richie Murphy. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho
Intent on opting for a 17/14 split between forwards and backs, as was the case in the 2015 World Cup, the Irish coaches are also likely to chose five half-backs, and with Joey Carbery an ongoing doubt for Japan, one or even both of Jack Carty and Ross Byrne are set to make the 31-man cut amongst three outhalves.
Necessity being the mother of invention, the Irish brains trust face a tricky task in using the upcoming warm-up games away to a more match-hardened England this Saturday and Wales a week later to further evaluate the credentials of Carty and Byrne, while also affording some game time to Johnny Sexton. He sat out yesterday’s training session in the Algarve due to “soreness” along with Robbie Henshaw, Keith Earls and James Ryan.
“It’s definitely made us think and work out what the best route forward is for us,” said kicking and skills coach Richie Murphy at the squad’s base in Quinta do Lago yesterday.
“We can’t go into a World Cup with a situation where we’ve only got Johnny as, maybe, our main ‘10’, and other guys who haven’t had exposure at that level. We can’t do that.
“These three games are an opportunity to get guys some game time, and an opportunity to sort of stake a claim for a spot in that squad. Unfortunately that’s been taken away from Joey; it’s out of his hands now. So what can he do? Well, he has to get himself fit and show and give confidence to the coaches that he’s ready to play.
“But it is a difficult situation for Joey because his first game could be Scotland and we mightn’t have seen a hell of a lot of him in training before that,” added Murphy in reference to the World Cup pool opener in Yokohama.
“So in some ways it’s come out of Joey’s control in relation to staking a claim for his place in the squad.”
Oh dear. The best laid plans of mice and men etc.
Mindful of how Ian Madigan had insufficient game time at outhalf with Leinster before ultimately being pitched into the starting ‘10’ role for the quarter-final against Argentina four years ago, Joe Schmidt and David Nucifora had encouraged Carbery to move on from Leinster, and his switch to Munster has certainly been invaluable if injury-afflicted.
However, Carbery’s possible absence from the early stages or even the entirety of the World Cup throws into sharp focus the comparative lack of exposure Carty and Byrne have had at international level. Neither has yet started a Test.
Byrne’s two caps were off the bench against Italy in Chicago and the USA at the Aviva Stadium in November last year. Since then he has seemingly been usurped in the pecking order by Carty, who became Sexton’s understudy in the Six Nations and won his fourth cap off the bench against Italy last Saturday week.
By contrast, Madigan had started four Tests at outhalf, and won another 17 caps off the bench, going into the last World Cup. Even Paddy Jackson, the third choice ‘10’, had started five Tests and won another seven caps off the bench before the 2015 tournament. Those are akin to Carbery’s figures of six starts, all at outhalf, and a further 13 Tests off the bench, but some way ahead of Carty and Byrne.
If the coaches are ultimately of a mind to take Carbery, then Carty, an inventive, pacey game breaker who sees space, and Byrne, more dependable in carrying out a game plan and running a team, with that expert cross kick as a party piece, offer contrasting options.
“We’ve a lot of faith in Ross and Jack,” said Murphy. “They bring slightly different strengths. Ross’s organisation and ability to run the team is really strong. Jack plays lovely sort of free ball and organises well, and he’s great at spotting space behind, and is also quite quick when he gets through the line.”
That said, Schmidt ventured that Carty took time to settle when replacing Carbery against Italy. He misfired one skip pass and, while showing his penchant for finding space with his kicking game, on one occasion might have been better served by moving turnover ball out wide in transitioning to attack rather than finding touch.
“Talking to Jack after the game he was probably a little bit disappointed,” said Murphy. “He found some really good space in behind a couple of times but probably missed an opportunity or two, and was probably a little bit rusty like some of the other players.
“He’s trained well this week, trained very well today, so we’ve got faith in Jack,” added Murphy, perhaps indicating that Carty’s full Test debut will be against England on Saturday.
“We’ve seen him over the last year, he’s turned into a real leader in the Connacht squad and he’s shown that in training, albeit probably not his best performance last week.”
As for Byrne, Murphy said: “I think Ross has to make sure that he’s true to himself and play his own game. Ross is a very strategic outhalf, he organises people well, he’s a good passing game, a strong kicking game and he just needs to be himself.
“I think Jack is the same, We’re not looking for them to be anyone else, play the game the way they see it, fit into the squad, fit into the team and bring confidence to the guys around them.”
While time is seemingly against Carbery, the limitations imposed by a 31-man squad mean his versatility would also be extremely helpful.
“We’re definitely leaning towards five half-backs,” confirmed Murphy.
“We’ll probably bring 14 backs. You can’t take six in those positions. The one guy that gives you that flexibility is somebody like Joey where he’s quite comfortable playing at ‘15’. He changes the shake-up there a little bit because he can play ‘15’, he can play ‘10’ and back in years gone by he’s played ‘9’. So he gives us great cover in that regard.”