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Saturday 3 December 2016

Ireland on backfoot

Defence coach Farrell taken with growth in Carbery's confidence

Defence coach Andy Farrell
Defence coach Andy Farrell

For now, the fitness and durability of Jonathan Sexton is all that stands between Joey Carbery and his first Ireland cap.

The omission of Paddy Jackson, in light of allegations of sexual offences which he completely rejects, and an injury to Ian Madigan - the Bordeaux out-half will be out for a month with a groin injury - pushes Carbery closer to the centre stage.

It is definite Sexton will start against New Zealand in Chicago on Saturday, probable Carbery will do so against Canada at the Avvia Stadium a week later.

Exciting

"It's exciting for him though, isn't it?" said defence coach Andy Farrell.

"He's played well and, honestly, you find out about people coming into an environment like this, straight away.

"Sometimes they shrink and sometimes they grow.

"Our impression of Joey has been, 'wow, he isn't short of confidence'.

"He's not brash at all, but he ain't short of confidence.

"He obviously feels that he wants to put his best foot forward over the next week and let's see how it goes because he certainly has been playing well."

Understandably, Farrell towed the party line to side-step any inquiry into the situation in which Jackson finds himself.

"I think there's been a bit said about it already and Ulster have come out and made a statement this morning.

"We'll reference you to that and we'll get on with our own business," he said.

"We've got a big week ahead of us here in Chicago.

"Little preparation, our focus has to be on the game and we'll make no further comment."

While it would be unfair and tenuous to read too much into it, the form of Jackson had dipped in the last two weeks against Exeter Chiefs, despite the heroics of a late drop goal, in the Champions Cup and Munster in the PRO12 League.

Doubtless, Stuart Olding is an important piece of Schmidt's puzzle too as a second-distributor with uncommon evasive skills.

From Ulster's perspective, the questions over their immediate futures need to be ironed out as soon as possible or the province could be plunged into an unsettling period.

The last time Sexton completed 80 minutes for Ireland was against Italy back in April of 2015.

It was just the third time that happened in his 29 appearances over the last four seasons. Since then, there have been seven occasions when he has had either Madigan or Jackson there in his slipstream to make an impact.

The introduction of Carbery will be a simple enough calculation really.

Schmidt is an admirer of the New Zealand-born playmaker and is already planning for the 2019 Rugby World Cup in Japan.

Should Ireland fall well behind or Sexton's hamstring flare up again, Carbery will be called on to make his international debut four days after turning 21 years of age.

Meanwhile, All Blacks hookers Dane Coles and Codie Taylor will tussle for the right to wear the same number as Ireland captain Rory Best.

Of course, it was Coles luring in of Madigan that opened the way for Ryan Crotty to break Irish hearts three years ago.

Not well known back then, Coles has added the weight and scrum ballast to compliment his rampant running and pinpoint passing game.

Electrifying

He is one of the most electrifying sights in world rugby when finding room in the wide channels.

"I've got a lot of respect for the guy, I've always wanted to play against him," said Coles.

"I'm really looking forward, if I get the chance, to have that battle because he's a world-class hooker."

All Black flanker Jerome Kaino raised an eye-brow when informed of the fact neither Seán O'Brien nor Peter O'Mahony would be in Chicago this week.

Instead, Ireland will have to delve into their resources to calculate which three will be chosen from vice-captain Jamie Heaslip, CJ Stander, Josh van der Flier and Jordi Murphy.

"I want to train as well as I can, get the detail sorted as early as I can and then see where that takes me.

"It is up to the coach then who he selects," said Van der Flier.

The omission of O'Mahony increases the likelihood Murphy will be join Stander and Heaslip, purely on his lineout agility.

In addition, Billy Holland, Ultan Dillane and Donnacha Ryan have all played on the flank on various occasions in the past.

When Schmidt was an assistant coach at Auckland Blues for four seasons (2004-2007), Kaino was learning the game.

In fact, they joined the Super Rugby franchise in the same season.

"He's a very good coach and, from what I remember, he's definitely what you would call a 'rugby head'," commented Kaino.

"He's always got a laptop and a rugby game going on, but awesome on detail, the little things, the basics done well.

"You can see that in the way Ireland play - they do the basics very well," he said.

They will have to do them to near perfection to shock the world.

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