Joe Schmidt has confirmed that opportunity knocks for his pair of relatively inexperienced outhalves amid ongoing concern for Joey Carbery, with both Ross Byrne and Jack Carty to see game time against England at Twickenham on Saturday.
As expected, Byrne will made his first test start after two appearances off the bench last November after being named at outhalf in the run-on XV to face England, with Carty sure to see a chunk of game time in a fifth appearance off the bench.
“He’s trained really well and it’s not his debut, he’s had time with us before so we’ve got a lot of confidence in him anyway and I think he built his way through the season,” said Schmidt of Byrne.
“I thought he was maybe not as impressive as Jack early in the season, and I think those two have become really important to us.
“Joey has done well this week,” added Schmidt in reference to Carbery’s increased workload with the backroom staff as he recovers from an operation on the left ankle he injured against Italy in Ireland’s opening warm-up game last Saturday week.
“Johnny (Sexton), he’s fine, but he missed a bit of time with his thumb so he’s a little bit behind and we know how well he plays for us, we don’t feel that he needs a lot of time with the experience that he’s got.
“So, for us, the guys that need the time are probably Ross and Jack and they’ve got the opportunity to do that this weekend, that they’ll share a bit of time, I’d say, in the middle.”
Byrne and Carty offered contrasting strengths, with the former more akin to Sexton and the latter more comparable to Carbery.
“That’s probably a fair observation. I think Ross’s ability to control the game, it’s one of the things that was defining between Joey and him at Leinster probably in that Ross ran the game and Joey ran really well individually but I think it’s also something that comes with a rhythm and game time.
“Jack, whenever he came off the bench for us in the Six Nations, I thought he did a super job. So we have a lot of confidence in Jack being able to control the game and we do think he can bring a bit of a change up off the bench.
“Either way, I think they’ll both get a bit of game time on Saturday to demonstrate what they can bring to the game.”
Schmidt also confirmed that Carbery’s enforced absence has altered his thinking with regarded to Byrne and Carty.
“They were always really important because it is such a specialist position, but they probably wouldn’t have had this opportunity as much.
“Joey, especially on the back of his 50 minutes against Italy, I thought he was as good as I’ve seen him. I thought he controlled the game really well, he’s always a threat individually running and carrying the ball, but I just thought his control of the game was very, very good.
“So for him the frustration is not being able to get that opportunity to continue that, it’s probably a frustration for us as well but it’s somebody else’s opportunity and I know that Ross has trained well this week and is very, very motivated to do the job for us on Saturday.”
In a more familiar looking line-up, 10 of the side that kicked off the final Six Nations game against Wales make their seasonal re-appearances. The front-row of Cian Healy, skipper Rory Best and Tadhg Furlong, as do Peter O'Mahony, CJ Stander, Conor Murray, Bundee Aki, Jacob Stockdale and Rob Kearney.
Jordan Larmour, who reverts to the right wing, Garry Ringrose and, interestingly, the newly qualified Jean Kleyn are the only three players retained from the starting XV against Italy, with Tadhg Beirne again covering lock and blindside from the bench.
“We gave him (Kleyn) some things to work on from last time and we want to see if those can materialise on Saturday. Because he’s so new in, we felt that it was a priority to give him the time.
"Again, it is a fickle balance at the moment. Dev (Toner) knows our game inside out so needed less of the time. Iain Henderson has just trained so well this week, we're looking forward to seeing him out there and it also gives Tadhg Beirne the opportunity to be that cover-all backrow, secondrow.
“I’m not saying he’s not good enough to start in either of those positions but he’s nice security, having him covering all five of those back five positions, albeit seven we’d probably need to mix and match somebody but he can cover six, eight or five.”
John Ryan, Jordi Murphy and Will Addison were the chosen back-up players to travel with the 23-man squad to London today (Thursday), with the rest of the 40-man training squad returning to Ireland.
In addition to Carbery, general "soreness" and management of workload, along with unspecified niggles, have delayed the seasonal re-appearnces of Sexton, Robbie Henshaw, Keith Earls, Jack Conan, David Kilcoyne and James Ryan.
But Schmidt intimated that most and possibly all will be ready to face Wales in Cardiff on Saturday week, after which the 31-man squad for the World Cup will be finalised.
“They haven’t sat out training all week, they’ve gone in and out of training so Jack Conan and Dave Kilcoyne trained today and are looking really good. I’d expect that they will both be involved next week.
“Again Jack has had plenty of time with us. We felt against Italy we wanted to give Tommy and Jordi and Rhys the opportunity, this week it was the other guys and we just feel that Jack needs another week just because he was a bit slow into the pre-season, but he should be fine, and so should Dave Kilcoyne.
“Johnny (Sexton) ran early in the week and so we’re just buttoning off him a little bit because we don’t need him until next week or the week after, depending on how these two guys go on Saturday.
"We're also conscious that Johnny needs enough time for himself so that he can be comfortable going into the first round of the Rugby World Cup, so that will be part of the balance, we have a look at this game on Saturday and then project things forward from there.
“Robbie trained early in the week and did a good bit of work today, and again he’ll be really keen after watching Chris doing pretty well and Garry, as he always is, be really good for us, and Bundee and Garry getting a chance this week, I think Robbie will be motivated to put his best foot forward next week.”
IRELAND: Rob Kearney; Jordan Larmour, Garry Ringrose, Bundee Aki, Jacob Stockdale; Ross Byrne, Conor Murray; Cian Healy, Rory Best, Tadhg Furlong; Iain Henderson, Jean Kleyn; Peter O'Mahony, Josh van der Flier, CJ Stander.
Replacements: Sean Cronin, Jack McGrath, Andrew Porter, Devin Toner, Tadhg Beirne, Luke McGrath, Jack Carty, Andrew Conway.