'Johnny at 10 with Joey at 15... that would really open up our game' 11 months ago

'Johnny at 10 with Joey at 15... that would really open up our game'

"Anyone who thinks that, in 2018, Joe Schmidt said, 'This is it. I'm not going to evolve how we play and I'm going to freeze this moment in time', is naive."

We may learn in time that Joe Schmidt had a Joey Carbery masterplan all along, but we never got to see it in his final year in charge.

Despite encouraging Carbery to seek a move away from Leinster, so that he could find more game-time at outhalf, Schmidt would have been crazy not to have considered playing the Kiwi native at fullback this year.

England and New Zealand - the World Cup's best two teams - have both operated for much of 2019 with two playmakers in their backline. George Ford and Richie Mo'unga have often been handed the 10 jersey but Beauden Barrett (at fullback) and Owen Farrell (at inside centre) are calling a lot of the shots. There is more than just one point of attack and two slick distributors for the defence to think about.

Injuries to Carbery, during the Guinness Six Nations and in the World Cup warm-ups, scuppered any such plan for Ireland but Jerry Flannery believes the option should be seriously looked at by new Ireland coach Andy Farrell.

On the latest episode of Baz & Andrew's House of Rugby, Flannery joined Andrew Trimble to look back on Ireland's ultimately disappointing World Cup campaign and at how Farrell could deploy Carbery and Johnny Sexton together.

"Joey Carbery is a creator," Flannery says. "I'd like to have imagined that if Carbery had not been injured during the Six Nations, that he may have gotten some game-time there.

"And then in the Italy game [in August], he was phenomenal there. And then he got injured. And then you'd have liked to seen, and we could have played around with having Joey at 10 with Johnny at 12. You could have Johnny at 10 with Joey at 15, and that would really open up our game.

"Because, all the way through the tournament, whenever we didn't have - this is not a criticism on Jack Carty; I'm comparing him to a guy who was voted the best player in the world - we've really looked like, when we haven't had Johnny, we haven't looked like we've managed games well. Or whenever Johnny is on the field, it's always like looking to Johnny. Whereas, when you have another guy there to take the pressure off him, it just makes such a difference."

Looking ahead to the 2020 Guinness Six Nations campaign, and beyond, Flannery believes the Ireland squad is missing 'footballers' and that needs to be addressed. Long-term, that means improving the coaching of underage players but, for the short to medium term, it means drafting in players with good skill-sets, catch-pass fundamentals and lads who can play flat on the line.

"In terms of creators coming into the backline," Flannery says, "the guy who is stand-out for me is Joey Carbery. He is a massive talent."

It will be interesting, notes the former Munster and Ireland hooker, to see if Jordan Larmour goes into 15 when he returns to Leinster duty orwhether Leo Cullen and Stuart Lancaster play him on the wings. "Lancaster is very keen on his fullbacks to come up and play on either side of the ruck," he says.

"That takes some of the work-load off Johnny Sexton when he is in the field."

Carbery has designs on that Ireland No.10 jersey and a run of fitness and form, for Munster, will have him breathing down Sexton's neck. However, Farrell should use the 2020 Guinness Six Nations to try the Sexton-Carbery combination that Schmidt never got to, or was bold enough to.


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The latest episode sees Andrew Trimble and Jerry Flannery look back on Ireland's World Cup exit to New Zealand.