Joey Carbery’s ankle injury picked up against Italy in Ireland’s first World Cup warm up game will not keep him out of the World Cup, but the injury raises some serious selection headaches for coach Joe Schmidt.
The news will no doubt cause serious disruption to Schmidt’s preparations as he ponders how to manage game time between Jonny Sexton and Jack Carty, while also considering another back up 10 with Ross Byrne to the fore of that list.
Ireland’s Pool A fixtures are very much front loaded, taking on Scotland in a crucial opener on September 22nd in Yokohama, before meeting the tournament hosts six days later in Fukori with the Japanese having had two extra days recovery.
It puts an extra pressure on having as many front line players as possible ready to hit the ground running in the opening two rounds and here is where the coaches and S&C staff will really earn their money.
Get over those two and it is Russia on October 3rd and Samoa on October 12th. Depending on whether Ireland come 1st or 2nd in the group their quarter final would be almost a month on from the Japanese game allowing plenty of time to rest front line players.
This mid tournament ‘break’ could prove crucial for Ireland’s hopes. One only has to think back to the last World Cup when Ireland beat France in their final Pool game, but suffered injuries to Jonny Sexton, Paul O’Connell and Peter O’Mahony. A decimated Ireland were overrun by Argentina seven days later in the quarter final.
There is no doubt that Sexton is down as the starting 10 against Scotland, but with Carbery recovering from injury, how much game does Sexton need across three bruising encounters against Wales & England?
Had Ireland been coming into the tournament on the back of a successful Six Nations campaign, I would be saying not a lot, but Ireland suffered heavy defeats to England and Wales and will need to regain some bit of that 2018 momentum.
Not getting the gametime exposure right and coaches risk the dreaded cliché of the team being undercooked while trying to build up match fitness through those minutes runs the risk of injury.
Whatever minutes the Sexton/Murray axis and other front line players are going to get should be in the next two games with the last one serving as a final opportunity for players to put themselves in contention for game 3 against Russia on October 3rd.
Jack Carty and perhaps to a lesser extend Ross Byrne should also see game time over the next few weeks. Both have played well for their provinces of late and could yet be asked to step into the breach.
As with all injuries, return dates are not set in stone. Carbery might not recover as well as anticipated and might lack match fitness when he does.
At the time of writing the article Sexton is fully fit and fingers crossed it stays that way but again there are no guarantees. All in all it poses some big questions for the Irish coach as he manages one final balancing act before the end of his six-year tenure.