‘Ross is very, very motivated to do the job for us on Saturday’ – Schmidt

WITH JOEY CARBERY currently crocked with an ankle injury and Johnny Sexton on ice for now, opportunity knocks for Jack Carty and, firstly, Ross Byrne.

The Leinster out-half will make his first Test start for Ireland as he wins his third cap against England at Twickenham on Saturday, aware that a convincing and commanding performance could help to catapult him towards featuring at the World Cup in Japan.

Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Ireland have no guarantees over the fitness of Carbery – who had a minor procedure on his ankle after suffering injury against Italy two weekends ago – and the Joe Schmidt has now laid down a challenge to Byrne and Carty to make any decision around possibly bringing an injured player to the World Cup easier.

“They were always really important because it is such a specialist position, but they probably wouldn’t have had this opportunity as much,” said Schmidt in Portugal today after naming his team.

“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.”

Byrne won his two Ireland caps in the 2018 November Test series, coming off the bench against Italy and the US, before Connacht man Carty’s form saw him nudge ahead during this year’s Six Nations, when he earned three caps off the bench.

That he will make his first start with a very strong Ireland team around him should be settling for Byrne, although the 24-year-old always looks unflappable.

“He’s trained really well and it’s not his debut, he’s had time with us before so that we’ve got a lot of confidence in him anyway and I think he built his way through the season,” said Schmidt.

Carty will get plenty of game time on Saturday too. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

“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. Johnny, 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.”

It would be intriguing to see both play 40 minutes each, almost going head-to-head to impress their head coach.

Byrne and Carty are, of course, different players. The Connacht out-half has an excellent attacking and territorial kicking game, as well as fluid passing and offloading skills, while Byrne is seen as being more similar to Sexton – a calculating, clever organiser.

“That’s probably a fair observation,” said Schmidt of Sexton and Byrne’s similarities. “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.”

Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

As for the players not involved this weekend, Schmidt said Jack Conan and Dave Kilcoyne both trained today and “are looking really good” ahead of expected involvement against Wales next weekend.

Carbery was seen running on the pitch at Ireland’s Quinta do Lago base, while 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.”

Robbie Henshaw, James Ryan, and Keith Earls sat out parts of training on Tuesday but that was put down to “soreness,” with all likely to be in the mix for the Welsh game.