Joe Schmidt is preparing to welcome his big guns for Saturday’s must-win Test against Australia in Melbourne.
Six Nations title frontliners Johnny Sexton, Garry Ringrose, Dan Leavy, Tadhg Furlong, and Cian Healy could all start this weekend as Ireland look to level the three-Test series with the Wallabies at AAMI Park having lost the opening game 18-9 in Brisbane last Saturday.
The quintet all started the Grand Slam-clinching final game against England at Twickenham on March 17 but the Leinster men, along with replacements that day Devin Toner and Andrew Porter were either benched or omitted from the matchday squad at Suncorp Stadium as the Australians inflicted a first defeat on Ireland since March 2017.
Flanker Leavy was believed to have been injured last weekend but head coach Schmidt said he could have played the first Test and was definitely in the selection mix this week while the Ireland camp are hopeful wing Keith Earls will come through his return to play protocols in the coming days following a failed Head Injury Assessment 25 minutes in to the Brisbane game.
The possible return of Sexton and company does not preclude Schmidt from introducing less experienced blood to his matchday 23 with Scarlets player of the year, Munster-bound lock Tadhg Beirne possibly in line for a Test debut in Melbourne.
Joey Carbery, who started the series opener at fly-half, seems likely to make way for Sexton this weekend. Having been replaced the senior playmaker after 56 minutes after steering Ireland into a 9-8 lead, the 22-year-old, also set to join Munster for next season, was satisfied with his performance.
He contributed nine points with just one penalty miss in four attempts in just his third Test start, a first against tier-one opposition and said: “I was delighted to get the opportunity from Joe and I felt it went well.
“The missed kick was annoying but I was happy with how it went and happy to come off injury free. It was my first game not coming off injured playing number 10. Third time lucky.
“Hopefully we’ll take the learnings and build. The next two weeks are exciting but I think we have a lot to learn.”
Carbery’s performance got the thumbs up from Schmidt during his post-match press conference on Saturday and team-mate CJ Stander echoed the praise yesterday as Ireland settled into a Melbourne match week.
“It’s the best way to do it, he ran quite well.”
Stander added that the fly-half, playing his 11th cap last weekend, had not been shy about bossing his more experienced colleagues around.
“In Chicago, when he came on to the pitch (for a Test debut against the All Blacks in November 2016), there was no change. It was a change in personnel, but not in what we were doing and where we were going.
“From that day on, training-wise, everytime he’s somebody who tells me where to go, what to do; he bosses the play.
“It’s something he’s probably learned from players he’s played with and something he has in himself.
“He’s very calm. He’s calm, calm, calm.... to the bone.
“Nothing gets under his skin that I can see, anyway.
“It would be nice to see in other parts of his life (if) people put him under pressure but he’s never under pressure (on the pitch).”
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