Rugby World Cup Pool A: Japan v Ireland
Kick-off: 8.15am, Saturday (Irish time). Venue: Shizuoka Stadium. How to follow: The Irish Times liveblog will begin at 7.30am. On TV: Live on Eir Sport and RTÉ 2.
Ireland's team selection is a measure of the respect being afforded to the hosts when they encounter Japan at the Shizuoka Stadium on Saturday (kick-off 4.15pm local time/8.15am Irish). Save for injuries, Joe Schmidt has unveiled a team that is pretty much locked and loaded with frontline players.
As expected, Rob Kearney and Keith Earls return from a calf strain and tendonitis respectively to begin their third World Cup campaigns, with Chris Farrell and Jack Carty also promoted to the starting line-up after lengthy shifts off the bench last Sunday. Otherwise, eleven of the starting side against Scotland, including Rory Best in an unchanged pack, are set to line up against Japan despite the six-day turnaround.
Bundee Aki who went off in the first-half against Scotland after he suffered a knock to the head, has not been risked despite passing his HIA 2 and 3 tests. Jack Conan was to have started at number '8' but someone stood on his foot in training and so Peter O'Mahony starts again at blindside, with CJ Stander at '8'.
But the most notable omission is Johnny Sexton, who twice had treatment on his upper right thigh and was unable to take the place-kicks from Tadhg Furlong's 25th minute try onwards before being replaced in the 58th minute.
It may well have been the case that Sexton was to be rested for this second Pool A game in any case, but his absence nonetheless heightens concerns about the 34-year-old’s well-being. He has been utterly integral to all of the major achievements Ireland have had, not to mention Leinster and the Lions as well, in recent times.
The influence of the World Player of the Year is reduced if he unable to carry out the goal-kicking, all the more so as there is usually no other frontline goal-kicker in the starting line-up. Conor Murray is a relatively accomplished goal-kicker, but he has only kicked 17 points for Ireland and 15 for Munster in his career.
"When you get a bang in the quad as a kicker it can affect your goal-kicking," explained Richie Murphy after Ireland's training session near their remote base of Iwata in Shizuoka on Tuesday, which Sexton sat out. "So if it's a case that he's affected like he was at the weekend, we're obviously not going to risk him in that part of the game.
“He was fully fine to do everything else and kicked out of hand with no problem. Kicking off the ground is actually a different muscle group that you’re using.”
Murphy also said: “Jack and Joey have done a good job over the last few weeks, and the last couple of years, so we’re quite happy with those guys if they have to play.”
Nonetheless, given Carbery has reportedly been training fully for the last couple of weeks, it’s still something of a surprise that Carty has been chosen to make his second test start, his first having been just over three weeks ago in Ireland’s penultimate warm-up game against Wales in the Principality Stadium.
Carbery is named on the bench, with Sean Cronin also promoted to the match-day squad, and Larmour provides cover for the back three, with David Kilcoyne, Andrew Porter, Tadgh Beirne, Rhys Ruddock and Luke McGrath all amongst the replacements again.
It's been a remarkable rise for the 27-year-old Carty, who was well down the out-half pecking order up until a year ago - remembering that in addition to Sexton and Carbery, Ross Byrne was chosen in the 31-man squad for the tour of Australia last year.
Carty only made his debut in this year’s Six Nations as a replacement in the win over Italy in the Stadio Olimpico, but his confidence soared further after his involvement in that tournament.
His form had blossomed in the last couple of seasons with Connacht, ironing out a tendency to make errors and fulfilling his stated ambition of improving his goal-kicking this season.
While given more of a structure to operate within under Andy Friend than was the case with Kieran Keane, Connacht's approach high tempo, ball-in-hand approach suits his brand of heads-up rugby.
“We have utmost faith in our other outhalves,” repeated Murphy. “Jack came on against Scotland and did really well. Whichever one of them was called on - if Johnny was out - we have no problem they can come in and run the game plan the way we want them to and be themselves.”
They bring different skills and are encouraged to use them.
“Johnny is a certain type of athlete and a certain type of rugby player that plays the game his way. These guys (Carty and Carbery) can come into and fit into our group but still be themselves. That’s important. They have to be themselves.”
That has been true in all of Carty’s cameos to date, as evidenced by the deft little diagonal grubber for Jacob Stockdale’s in the preamble to Ireland’s consolation try in Cardiff last March, to his deft, side-on kick for Chris Farrell to latch onto last Sunday.
It hasn’t always come off for Carty, and his execution was a little flawed when coming on against Italy in Ireland’s opening warm-up game when replacing Carbery and perhaps trying to force things a little.
But as well as being a good tackler, Carty has a varied kicking game and a wonderful appreciation of, and ability to locate, space on a rugby pitch, talents which Carbery also possesses and was encouraged to utilize in that warm-up game against Italy. Alas he hasn’t played since then, over six weeks ago.
Carty, meanwhile, will be in Ireland’s match-day squad for the ninth game running, in which time Carbery’s hamstring and latterly knee injuries have restricted him to just that one outing against Italy. Accordingly, as he prepares for the biggest game of his career, Carty has grown in confidence in this test environment.
Ireland: Rob Kearney (Leinster); Keith Earls (Munster), Garry Ringrose (Leinster), Chris Farrell (Munster), Jacob Stockdale (Ulster); Jack Carty (Connacht), Conor Murray (Munster); Cian Healy (Leinster), Rory Best (Ulster, capt), Tadhg Furlong (Leinster); Iain Henderson (Ulster), James Ryan (Leinster); Peter O'Mahony (Munster), Josh van der Flier (Leinster), CJ Stander (Munster).
Replacements: Seán Cronin (Leinster), Dave Kilcoyne (Munster), Andrew Porter (Leinster), Tadhg Beirne (Munster), Rhys Ruddock (Leinster), Luke McGrath (Leinster), Joey Carbery (Munster), Jordan Larmour (Leinster).