By Simon Lewis, Brisbane
Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt has entrusted Joey Carbery to find his feet as a starting Test fly-half against a Southern Hemisphere big gun when the Grand Slam winners face Australia on Saturday.
Schmidt has opted to rest several of Leinster’s Champions Cup and PRO14 double-winning stars for the opening contest in a three-Test series Down Under as Ireland bid to win for the first time here since 1979.
Fly-half Johnny Sexton is one of those being held back for the second and third Tests, while Six Nations starting props Cian Healy and Tadhg Furlong, lock Devin Toner, flanker Dan Leavy, and centre Garry Ringrose are the other Leinster men given an extra week to recover from their end of season heroics.
That means starts this weekend at Suncorp Stadium for Jack McGrath at loosehead and John Ryan at tighthead, while Rob Herring comes in at hooker for the injured skipper Rory Best. In Best’s absence the captaincy has been handed to Munster’s Peter O’Mahony, who will lead Ireland from the back row, where Jordi Murphy comes in for Leavy and CJ Stander retains his position at No.8.
For Carbery, 22, selection is an affirmation of Schmidt’s desire to see his preferred choice as Sexton’s deputy given further exposure at Test level in the fly-half position. Having been used mainly as a full-back for Leinster, the lack of gametime at number 10 has also persuaded Carbery to decide his future lies away from his home province and sign for Munster next season.
“One of the things with Joey, we really wanted to get him out there at 10 at some stage and we thought the best window was to give him the longest preparation that was possible,” Schmidt explained.
“As I said before we left Dublin it was a surprise to myself when Joey decided to go to Munster, we didn’t realise he was going to get that opportunity. We’d already talked about giving him this opportunity so we decided to forge ahead with it really.
“It was trying to get a balance. It was an opportunity that would probably be more difficult to engineer later in the tour because the longest window of preparation, we trained last Thursday in Dublin, then Tuesday and Thursday of this week, so within those three trainings it gave Joey an opportunity to slot himself in there as it did for John Ryan and Rob Herring in a similar vein.
As for the rested Leinster men, Schmidt added: “Those guys have some reasonably tough weeks and it was an opportunity.
There is one further change to the backline which started the Slam-clinching win over England at Twickenham, with Robbie Henshaw starting at outside centre in place of Ringrose.
It is an experienced backline to support Carbery and Six Nations player of the championship nominee Earls, who will win his 68th cap in Brisbane backed the fly-half to flourish in the unit.
“He has two experienced lads with Robbie and Bundee (Aki, in midfield) and, I suppose, myself and Kearns (Rob Kearney) at the back, Jacob (Stockdale) has been Jacob this year. He's been a freak even though he hasn't much experience.
Ireland wing Earls also welcomed the appointment of Munster team-mate Peter O’Mahony as his captain for this Saturday’s first Test.
“I've been playing under Pete as captain for a while now, he speaks well during training and gets his messages across.
“The main thing is going to be his actions. From kick-off he is going to go out and go as far as he can for as long as he can. Fellas get in behind him, because that's what you want your captain to do - to lead by example, and there's no better man.”
Australia will hand debuts to hometown Queensland Reds hooker Brandon Paenga-Amosa and No.8 Caleb Timu for their first Test of 2018 while head coach Michael Cheika could also spring the uncapped back-rower Pete Samu from the bench just days after securing the player’s release from a New Zealand RFU contract with the Crusaders.
AUSTRALIA: I Folau; M Koroibete, S Kerevi, K Beale, D Haylett-Petty; B Foley, W Genia; S Sio, B Paenga-Amosa, S Kepu; I Rodda, A Coleman; D Pocock, M Hooper, CTimu.
Replacements: T Latu, A Alaalatoa, T Tupou, R Simmons, L Tui, P Samu, N Phipps, R Hodge.
IRELAND: R Kearney; K Earls, R Henshaw, B Aki, J Stockdale; J Carbery, C Murray; J McGrath, R Herring, John Ryan; J Ryan, I Henderson; P O’Mahony - captain, J Murphy, CJ Stander.
Replacements: C Healy, S Cronin, T Furlong, Q Roux, J Conan, K Marmion, J Sexton, J Larmour