Joe Schmidt admitted Johnny Sexton was not happy about his omission from the Ireland squad to face World Cup hosts Japan on Saturday as he backed Jack Carty as a starting number 10.
First-choice fly-half Sexton, 34, missed training on Tuesday following a knock to his quad during Ireland’s impressive opening Pool A victory over Scotland in Yokohama last Sunday. Head coach Schmidt tends not to select players who have not taken part in every preparatory session during a match week and has instead chosen Carty after the Connacht playmaker closed out the 27-3 win as Sexton’s replacement. The Ireland boss named Munster fly-half Joey Carbery on the bench to face Japan to give him the chance of a World Cup debut in his comeback from an ankle injury sustained against Italy on August 10.
“Obviously we have left a couple of guys out who trained on Tuesday but not fully. We just decided to give ourselves certainty,” Schmidt said as he named the team to face Japan on Thursday at Ireland's Yumeria training ground in the Shizuoka Prefecture.
“We wanted to give Jack Carty as much certainty as possible so we told him on Tuesday that he would be starting so he could get his head around it. I thought he came on and played really well against Scotland, put a really nice through ball for Chris Farrell to get onto. He cleared our lines really well a couple of times when we had to come out of our 22, the distance of his angled kicks was spot on.
“It just allows us to freshen guys up and work through a few combinations as we work our way through the pool. Hopefully it will be a cohesive performance against Japan because it will have to be.”
Sexton came into the World Cup having played just once in pre-season, starting against Wales on September 7 and playing 63 minutes before being withdrawn. Yet Schmidt said he was happy with his playmaker’s gametime so far, even if Sexton was less than pleased.
“He is never happy about being left out. He is always looking to play but he had a good hit out against Scotland, I think 55-odd minutes,” Schmidt said. “He got a little bit of mileage under his belt there.
“We thought about bringing him off the bench – there would be that security off the bench – but we got a lot of time for Joey Carbery. He was fit and ready for Scotland so we want to get him involved. He’s a good option off the bench and it takes the pressure off Johnny a little bit this week.”
Ireland make four changes to the team which defeated its Six Nations rivals last weekend though the intention was to make five with a late rejig of the back required when Jack Conan, believed to have been initially selected at No.8, withdrawn due to an injury in Thursday morning’s training session ahead of the team announcement. Conan’s withdrawal meant calling in Peter O’Mahony off the bench to continue at blindside flanker with CJ Stander switching back from number six to No.8, where he had played against the Scots and won the man of the match award. Rhys Ruddock will provide back-row cover from the bench.
“Jack Conan, someone stood on his foot,” Schmidt explained. “He is absolutely fine but he was sore at training. We’ve got Peter and Rhys, who are fully fit. Rhys captained the last two times we played Japan and did a super job.
“It’s a case of being confident in the squad. We rolled our sleeves up today and worked pretty hard, we wanted to use training as a springboard into Saturday.”
O'Mahony had failed a Head Injury Assessment early in the game against Scotland but presented symptom-free post-match and passed HIA 2 and HIA 3 on Monday, clearing the Ireland vice-captain to return to full training immediately.
“Pete was mad keen to play. He only played that 25 minutes and unfortunately, I think we might have got Pete back out there but we had two HIAs at the same time (centre Bundee Aki) and therefore, the communication wasn't as smooth as it normally is so when you're trying to repeat words back to somebody (in the HIA test) it became a little bit difficult for him.
“He flew through his HIA2 and HIA3 which confirms to us that he didn't have a concussion. The HIA process is a precautionary process to ensure that anyone who has a suspected concussion is immediately removed from the field, it doesn't mean that they've had a concussion and in both Bundee and Pete's cases, they flew through HIA2 and HIA3.
“They are absolutely symptom-free as they were after the match, so, there's no elevated risk, we don't believe. We have a super medical staff and that allows us the confidence to have those guys involved if we see fit.”
Aki has been rested this week and is replaced by Chris Farrell, who impressed as the inside centre’s replacement after just 21 minutes in Yokohama. Full-back Rob Kearney and wing Keith Earls are also included, replacing Jordan Larmour and Andrew Conway.
Updated IRELAND team to play Japan: R Kearney (UCD/Leinster); K Earls (Young Munster/Munster), G Ringrose (UCD/Leinster), C Farrell (Young Munster/Munster), J Stockdale (Lurgan/Ulster); J Carty (Buccaneers/Connacht), C Murray (Garryowen/Munster); C Healy (Clontarf/Leinster), R Best (Banbridge/Ulster) - Captain, T Furlong (Clontarf/Leinster); I Henderson (Queens University/Ulster), James Ryan (UCD/Leinster); P O’Mahony (Cork Constitution/Munster), J van der Flier (UCD/Leinster), CJ Stander (Shannon/Munster).
Replacements: S Cronin (St Mary’s College/Leinster), D Kilcoyne (UL Bohemians/Munster), A Porter (UCD/Leinster), T Beirne (Lansdowne/Munster), R Ruddock (St. Mary’s College/Leinster), L McGrath (UCD/Leinster), J Carbery (Clontarf/Munster), J Larmour (St Mary’s College/Leinster).
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