‘You’d be a brave man telling Sexton he wasn’t playing...’

Michael Cheika may not have envied Joe Schmidt the task of telling Johnny Sexton he would be watching tomorrow’s kick-off at Suncorp Stadium from the bench but the man who made the call had no hesitation in handing Joey Carbery Ireland’s No. 10 jersey.

Ireland Rugby Squad Gym Session. Pic: ©INPHO/Dan Sheridan

His opposite number in the Wallabies camp knows only too well the dangers of bearing bad news to Ireland’s first-choice No. 10, having shepherded Sexton through his early senior career at Leinster as the Australian attempted to dovetail the youngster’s need for gametime with the need to start first-choice Felipe Contepomi.

Schmidt has long been in a similar position with Sexton clearly Ireland’s dominant 10 while recognising his Ireland’s hopes of prolonged success and a chance to make amends for the quarter-final exit at the 2015 World Cup depend on finding a viable replacement for the 32-year-old playmaker.

That fact left even Australia’s head coach unsurprised that Sexton might not feature from the start against his Wallabies in Brisbane tomorrow morning.

“Maybe they want to give him one rest, maybe that was the deal,” said Cheika.

“Mate, you’d be a brave man telling Sexton he wasn’t playing.

“I had to deal with him for a few years, telling him he wasn’t playing... he almost ripped my head off every time.

“The other lad (Carbery) is a fine player. I’ve seen him play a lot on television and live. He’s got a real skillset.

“To be honest, I don’t think Johnny will be keen to give him the chance to play either. Whatever it is, that’s the way it is.”

Schmidt did not need any counselling on his need to mix things up and present Carbery with the opportunity to find his feet at the highest level, which facing Australia in Brisbane certainly represents.

Having paid the price for not suitably blooding a replacement for Sexton in 2015, the main man withdrawing late on the Friday before that fateful World Cup quarter-final against Argentina, he is doing his best to ensure lightning will not strike a second time in Japan in 15 months.

“I think there is risk in every selection,” said Schmidt. “Is there a greater risk in not making the decision? If we continue to use Johnny solely at No. 10 for the next 18 months, is there more risk in that? It’s a risk we’ve taken before that was not particularly successful.”

The comfort for Schmidt comes in the experience he has packed around the 22-year-old making just his third start in his 11th Ireland appearance. With Conor Murray at scrum-half and a midfield on his shoulders of Bundee Aki and Robbie Henshaw, as well Rob Kearney at full-back, Carbery has as good a security blanket around him as Schmidt can muster, though he accepted it will be no armchair ride.

“It’s always important (that experience) because there’s going to be moments in the match where decisions have to be made on the fly, decisions have to be made quickly, and if he can be helped with some of that decision-making so he just links or just slots in and he can get a kick away and those sort of things — the more pressure you can take off him I think the easier it’s going to be.

“But there’s going to be nothing easy about it. You’ve got Michael Hooper, David Pocock coming off the side of the scrum or coming up in your channel off a lineout, it’s going to be a really tough day for Joey to work his way through.”

The maturity with which Carbery reached his decision to leave Leinster and join Munster next season was also cited by Schmidt as a mark of strong character determined to make his way in the world.

“It’s one of those things, you gain confidence in a young man who’s making his own decisions but he’s trying to put a bit of information together to try to make that decision,” said Schmidt.

“It is difficult. He’s comfortable at Leinster, he loves playing for Leinster. He’s really well coached in Leinster, he’s playing with super players in Leinster, so to go outside that comfort zone is a big step for a young player.”

That experienced backline to support Carbery includes future Munster teammate and left-wing Earls, who will win his 68th cap in Brisbane.

Earls said: “He has two experienced lads with Robbie and Bundee and, I suppose, myself and ‘Kearns’ at the back, Jacob (Stockdale) has been superb this year. He’s been a freak even though he hasn’t much experience.

“We’ll stay tight as a unit, help Joey out as much as he can, but I don’t think he’ll need too much help. He’s a great player and I’m looking forward to playing with him.”



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