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Schmidt turns to Carbery for Irish inspiration

 

By Ruaidhri O'Connor

It's the elephant in the Carton House room, but Paddy Jackson's enforced absence has left Ireland with a major shortage of options at No.10.

In an environment where normally no one's place is safe, Johnny Sexton is a secure figure as the No.1 No.10.

When fit, there is no discussion around the out-half position, but relying on the 32-year-old can be a risky business. He is in a rich vein of form and is enjoying a clean run without injury, but Schmidt knows how quickly fortunes can change.

He had invested time into Jackson, particularly since the 2016 Six Nations - a period in which the Ulster No.10 has started nine of Ireland's 15 games - and since the three-Test tour of South Africa he appeared to have earned the coach's trust.

However, the 25-year-old is out of the game indefinitely as he awaits trial and Schmidt has been forced to delve into his shallow resources.

With Ian Madigan - his preferred reserve out-half for the first half of his reign - in exile, the next men in are Joey Carbery and Ian Keatley.

The Munster pivot has been drafted in in cases of emergency, but is in a three-way battle for the starting spot at his province.

Carbery, meanwhile, is also in a three-way race with Sexton and Ross Byrne and, given the resources available, Leinster chief Leo Cullen has opted to redeploy him to full-back.

Tomorrow, Carbery will be asked to lead the Irish backline for the first time in an Aviva Stadium Test match.

His first start came in New Jersey last summer and he struggled against the United States both off the tee and in open play.

Last weekend he produced an excellent cameo in the last 10 minutes against South Africa, but doing it from the off is a different challenge.

Schmidt has confidence in his ability, but needs him to grow up very quickly against Fiji.

"A lot of it is even on the training ground because he has just played six minutes of competitive rugby at No.10, I think we are asking a lot of him," the head coach said.

"The comforting thing is he takes a lot on himself and he wants to be as good as he can be. If you put yourself under pressure you find out a little bit more about yourself and you learn about yourself.

"We don't necessarily have many windows for Joey to accelerate his learning, so this is an opportunity for us to try and accelerate that as best we can.

"He has played almost 450 minutes of competitive rugby this year but that has all been at full-back.

"For him the time, the space of this match, it tightens the whole thing up and for him to move from 15 to 10 it tightens the whole thing up a lot further.

"It's going to be a tough day at the office for Joey and we want to see how he negotiates that really.

"I totally understand why he doesn't play at 10 (at Leinster) if he has Johnny there and Ross Byrne, who had such a super season last year and his goal kicking is so reliable that that's the best solution so that's what you go with.

"That's why Joey is starting this weekend. If he doesn't get those windows elsewhere we've got to try and get them for him here, because we do need some support beneath Johnny, just as we do for all sorts of players."

With the high stakes of the Six Nations on the horizon, Schmidt is using tomorrow against the world's ninth ranked side as a chance to blood new faces and test new combinations. While he might have been tempted to give Carbery the comfort of experience either side, he has chosen to rotate his options almost entirely and made 13 changes.

So, Kieran Marmion is inside him and Stuart McCloskey is outside him. The big Ulster centre comes in from the cold for a second cap alongside debutant Chris Farrell in what is surely the biggest centre partnership Ireland has ever fielded.

Behind them, Andrew Conway switches to full-back and Darren Sweetnam and Dave Kearney line out on the wings.

Up front, Rob Herring and Andrew Porter get their first starts alongside the vastly experienced Jack McGrath. Ultan Dillane makes just his second start, partnering the team's most experienced player Devin Toner. Behind them, an all-Leinster back-row of captain Rhys Ruddock, Jordi Murphy and Jack Conan looks potent.

It's an experimental line-up against a potent force who should not be taken lightly, but there is a need to get experience into the young players.

Nowhere more does he need to find out if the new faces can cut it than at out-half.

"We are trying to build resilience for all our players and we are also trying to build that next player through," Schmidt said. "You can't build them, though, unless they have had the acid test, the opportunities to put themselves in and learn from it. We know he will be better for the experience.

"Will he be good enough on the day? We would love him to be and he is keen to be and he has worked hard to be, so it will be a fine balance."

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