Jack Carty was on holiday in Spain two years ago when Joey Carbery injured some ligaments in Ireland’s defeat of the USA in New Jersey.
This is it, he thought. Showtime. But it wasn’t. There would be no phone call telling him to make his way across the Atlantic. Paddy Jackson played 10 for the next two summer tests, against Japan. Rory Scannell covered for the Ulsterman from the bench.
Carty remained where he was, but the holiday was ruined.
“I was actually out for dinner with my sisters and girlfriend. Joey went off and I had thought I might be coming over — and then I wasn’t. I was all moody for two or three days and my missus was fired up with me. I probably was expecting a call the next day.”
Another 20 months would pass before Joe Schmidt finally deigned to hand the Connacht out-half his debut but Carty’s rise through the ranks has been rapid since then.
So much so that he starts against the host nation in a crucial World Cup Pool A encounter tomorrow.
This is nose bleed territory.
He was told the news on Tuesday. Schmidt wanted to be fair to the 27-year old and give him as much of the week to prepare as possible, but it was too late to share the news with parents Ted and Susan, who had left Japan for home just before he got the nod.
“They literally landed and I rang them to tell them that I am playing. They will come back out. I don’t know if my old man... he will probably see the game but he is the Connacht president this year and they are playing Scarlets away on Saturday so he kind of had to go home for that anyway.”
Carty will understand the interest in his ascent. His first instinct had you told him 12 months ago that he would be starting here would have been to suspect that there was a “decimation” of injuries and that’s not all that far from the truth.
Fitness issues with both Jonathan Sexton and Joey Carbery have left Ireland light at 10 and it doesn’t do Carty any manner of disservice to point out that this is all far from ideal for Schmidt as he plots safe passage through to the last eight.
He is, to be blunt, Ireland’s third-choice out-half. Were he or Carbery to come a cropper at some point, we would be in a situation where Garry Ringrose is next in line.
Japan will target Carty. Head coach Jamie Joseph said as much yesterday, although he didn’t need to. It would be a dereliction of duty if the hosts didn’t ask questions of a player making just his second international start in front of over 50,000 home fans in a game of this importance.
Carty did struggle to sleep earlier this week but it was only one night and his roommate Bundee Aki’s snoring was the culprit.
Schmidt has clearly been taken with the former footballer’s sense of calm and his refusal to be phased by the magnitude of what lies ahead.
“Yeah, I just went about my day (off on Wednesday) as I normally do,” he explained. “I kicked in the morning and then went to the shopping centre down the road. That’s what I would have done if it was Connacht playing. I try to keep everything the same.
“The hotel we’re staying in is beautiful. There are turtles running around the place. A few of the lads have been using the rice pillows. I think that’s what they are. They’re these rock-hard pillows which are actually phenomenal to sleep on, I’d highly recommend it. I’ve been sleeping really well.”
This may well be the biggest game of his career but Carty will tell you that every game of late has felt like it’s been the most important: from his debut off the bench against Italy, to his first start when Wales were the opposition in Cardiff, and through to last Sunday when he made his World Cup debut in replacing Sexton against the Scots.
He may or may not feel the nerves once the whistle blows at the Ecopa Stadium tomorrow but there will inevitably be some trepidation felt by Irish fans watching around the world given the simple fact that he is so inexperienced at this level and the reality that his name isn’t Sexton.
Nothing we have seen from Carty in an Irish jersey yet suggests that this is beyond him. The manner in which he settled into the system when he appeared against Scotland spoke volumes for a player who has benefited so much from the arrival of Andy Friend in Connacht as head coach.
Friend has freed Carty from some of the strictures and structures that had been in place at the province before that.
He has given his man the independence to heed his instincts within a wider framework and the same applies here and now with Ireland.
“I’m not going to try to be Johnny or Joey. I’m going to try and put my stamp on things. The two lads have things that they’re better than me at and I’d like to think that I have things I can bring that might be better than them.
“It’s just about me doing what I can do to put the team in a better position and trying to keep diesel in the forwards legs by putting the ball in front of them.”
Sounds simple. Maybe it will be.