Joe Schmidt has revealed his team to take on Australia in Saturday’s first test in Brisbane and has gone down an unexpected route, springing a number of selection surprises.
The Ireland head coach was expected to rotate his squad at some stage during the three-game series, but it was thought that he would opt for a full strength side to start the opening fixture.
Instead, Schmidt has gone with an intriguing selection, featuring six changes from the Six Nations finale, that whets the appetite further for what was already a mouthwatering clash against the Wallabies.
Here are five surprises from the Ireland team announcement this morning.
Carbery gets his chance
The thinking behind Joey Carbery’s recent move from Leinster to Munster was for the 22-year-old to get more game time at out-half to cement his role as Johnny Sexton’s preeminent back-up. It looks like now that Carbery has acquiesced to his relocation, Schmidt is keen to uphold his end of the bargain.
His selection at ten for the first test is a firm backing of Carbery’s position in the Ireland squad and now it is up to the talented attacker to seize the chance. Most importantly for Carbery, he is playing alongside a full strength backline rather than in a shadow Ireland side, so will get an opportunity to build meaningful combinations with players he may have to lead if Sexton was to get injured before the World Cup.
This is the biggest moment of Carbery’s career to date, and how he deals with it is sure to be the biggest talking point after the first test.
Leinster stars given a rest
As well as Sexton, Schmidt has opted to keep Cian Healy, Sean Cronin and Tadhg Furlong in reserve while Dan Leavy and Garry Ringrose have been omitted entirely. It is understandable that the Ireland coach wanted to give some additional rest to that sextet given their heavy workload in Leinster’s busy run in, but he has perhaps run the risk of keeping too many in-form players in reserve.
However, like the Carbery selection, it is another vote of confidence in the wider Ireland squad, and leaves the team in a strong position for the second and third tests, with a host of big names still to return.
No room for in-form Beirne
Perhaps it was always unlikely that new Munster second row Tadhg Beirne would make his international debut in the first test, but given the nature of the rotated team selection, his inclusion on the bench would have been justified after a stellar season.
Quinn Roux’s strong work in the tight has him marked as a Schimdt favourite, but he has struggled at club level whereas Beirne was one of Europe’s best performers during the last campaign.
The 26-year-old will surely get another chance over the next three weeks, but springing him off the bench in the second half this weekend would have been a powerful weapon at Schmidt’s disposal.
Cronin must wait to stake his starting claim
After Rory Best was ruled out of the series through injury, it set things up for Sean Cronin to possibly displace the Ireland captain ahead of the World Cup. While Best has been one of Ireland’s most dependable soldiers throughout his international career, the more explosive Cronin is playing arguably his best rugby.
While he has fallen in and out of favour with Schmidt, and has never nailed down a starting place in green, a strong showing in this test series could force his coach’s hand as we get nearer to the World Cup. Best will turn 36 this August, but after being selected on the bench for Saturday’s opening test, Cronin will have to wait a bit longer to put pressure on the Ulster star.