Joe Schmidt backed a cool and calm Jack Carty to run the Ireland show in Johnny Sexton’s absence as part of the head coach’s plan to ruin Japan’s World Cup party at Stadium Ecopa tomorrow (8.15am Irish time).
Schmidt waxed lyrical about the Connacht playmaker as he announced his team to face the hosts on home turf, his selection of Joey Carbery as replacement fly-half a further endorsement of his faith in Ireland’s increasing ability to make do without their first-choice number 10.
Such was the reliance on Sexton at the 2015 World Cup that Ian Madigan was ill-prepared to fill his boots when the call came, albeit at late notice, to start the quarter-final against Argentina. And such is the confidence in Carty, 27, and a fit-again Carbery, 24, that Schmidt feels able to keep Sexton out of the firing line in a game against a potentially dangerous opponent playing in their own backyard.
Yesterday he praised Carty’s calm under pressure, his kicking and running games as an attacking threat as well as his defensive solidity and then reflected on the former Southampton FC triallist’s impressive growth as a player given he was overlooked for Ireland’s 2017 summer tour to the USA and Japan and only earned a Test debut last February off the bench against Italy.
“I think it’s all those things I mentioned, there’s not one thing that stands out,” Schmidt said of his fly-half. “The pass quality has improved, he’s worked really hard on being able to flatten up his pass, even when he’s going with width. His kicking has always been a bit of a strength, he was a footballer as a youngster, so he’s always had that strength and his defence has really come on. He’s quick, he gets off the line.
“He wouldn’t be the biggest man but he’s incredibly brave and will certainly put himself into the fray. So it really is across the board, as an individual player, and then his ability to run a game. You watch Connacht play and he’s very calm but he’s certainly pulling the strings effectively.
“When we select, we always talk to provincial coaches as well, they see guys training week-in, week-out. We see them at training sometimes, we see them in matches but the confidence Andy Friend and Jimmy Duffy have in him being able to deliver, Nigel (Carolan) the same, they all really have confidence in him which is probably reflected in the player we have now, that he’s built his way in.
“He was battling with Joey, Johnny and obviously Ross Byrne. The way he played in that Wales away game (on August 31, Carty’s first and only Ireland start), I thought he got his foot in front of Ross on the back of that. He’s kept putting a foot further forward each time.”
Schmidt will need all of his players similarly focused in a fixture that is likely to be the most demanding in terms of an event. If Japan play as well as the game they have been talking this week, Ireland are in for a torrid afternoon as the Brave Blossoms perform in front of their own supporters.
“I think there’s a sense of the elevation of the occasion because they’re the host nation and the investment they’ve made in this team,” the head coach said of the opposition. “They’ve spent something like 180-200 days in camp, they invested a lot of time in each other to create the combinations that they so very effectively have shown.
“Maybe they were a little below par against Russia, by their standards in their ball-transfer and accuracy but we know that they can be flicked around... they’ve an eight-day turnaround as opposed to (Ireland’s) six-day turnaround. So, while we were thrashing it out with Scotland they’d had a full day’s recovery and a fantastic opportunity to have a good look at us.
“So, we’re very conscious that they will be really well prepared, incredibly well supported. But, it’s not something we’re too distracted by.
“All we control is what we deliver on the pitch and we’ll go out and try to deliver as best we can this Saturday just like we would if we were at home. That’s what we can best control.”
As one would expect, Schmidt will demand improvement from what was an impressive team performance that in itself would have been plenty enough to see off Japan. The set-piece was formidable with the lineout back to its effective best after recent wobbles, while Ireland’s kicking game was efficient as was the way Scotland’s kick-chase was dealt with in difficult conditions as the rain pelted down in Yokohama.
Schmidt was impressed by the way Ireland have recovered from Sunday’s game and trained in the heat and humidity this week and he believes there is much more to come from his players this weekend.
“The lads really enjoyed this morning’s session. You can tell from the energy they put into it. I thought it was a super session. Maybe we’ll be a little bit better in the air, I think that’s somewhere we can improve. I thought defensively we were very, very good.
“To be honest, we didn’t really get the chance to play with too much width in the conditions and while Scotland did a little bit, I think some of the time we profited from that rather than them, because it was one of those days when you had to be a little bit more measured with your passing. They made a few errors and we probably got an opportunity to capitalize on the back of those.
“So you’ll see more of us play with a bit more width but, again, that will depend a little bit on conditions, but the expectation is that the conditions are going to be better.”
Ireland can expect some moments of danger from Japan but they are also capable of posing many more threats in return as they bid to take a significant step forward towards the quarter-finals.