FRESH from downing world champions South Africa last weekend, Ireland face Fiji at the Aviva Stadium tomorrow afternoon looking to drive home their presence at the summit of the world rugby rankings.
Ireland are 27 points favourites in the handicap, at least at the time of writing, so anything other than a comfortable Irish victory would be a huge surprise, despite the fact that a number of the stars of the South Africa victory are going to sit this one out.
Last Saturday at Murrayfield Scotland were poor, yet still scored four tries in a 28-12 win over the Pacific Islanders, while dangerous winger Setariki Tuicuvu and second-row Ratu Rotuisolia scored tries for Fiji.
Former Scotland head coach Vern Cotter has now taken charge of the talented and maverick Fijians, and we can expect the usual blend of flair, power, and speed from them, but Ireland should have too much structure and know-how for them, even with a team far from their best 15.
Joey Carbery will get a rare start to show his worth in the Irish no. 10 shirt. The fact that he was not introduced until the 77th minute in the victory over the Springboks last Saturday tells a huge story. Ireland head coach Andy Farrell clearly has all his eggs in the Jonathan Sexton basket.
A bruised and battered Sexton was trusted more to close out the game than a fresh Carbery. Sexton will be 38 by the time the Rugby World Cup kicks off in France next year.
He has managed to be relatively injury-free for the past couple of seasons, but there is always the fear that he will not get to do his Tom Brady impression and that injury, and time, will eventually catch up with him.
It’s not even that Sexton does anything that special. He doesn’t make line breaks. He doesn’t catch up-and-unders, but it is the aura that he exudes when out on the pitch as Irish captain. Ireland simply play better with him there.
When he isn’t, there’s always that nagging question at the back of everyone’s mind — how would they have gone if Johnny was there? Carbery could certainly do with an impressive outing against Fiji to show Farrell, and everyone else, that the wheels will not completely come off if anything untoward were to occur to Sexton.
Carbery has had his own injury issues but his importance to the squad has been driven home by the fact that Ciaran Frawley keeps getting injured. As a result of these injuries, the Frawley experiment seems somewhat dead in the water. He certainly has the attributes to play at out-half, but the recent Emerging Ireland tour to South Africa was effectively designed to give him exposure at 10 and he didn’t even make the plane.
That the A game at the RDS against the New Zealand XV had similar vibes and he had to leave the pitch, again injured, means that he has not gotten the game-time in the number 10 jersey that he needed.
We are still unsure if he can really play there at the top level. And, of course, he is crocked for tomorrow’s game too, which was another outing he would have been earmarked for.
This potentially leaves the door ajar for the man who did go on the Emerging Ireland Tour and impressed, Cork Constitution’s Jack Crowley.
WithTadhg Furlong was named as captain and the fact that Crowley was not released for the Munster versus South Africa Select XV game in Páirc Uí Chaoimh means the Munster youngster will more than likely get his first cap off the bench.
He is still extremely inexperienced at this level, and there are no guarantees, but if he continues to get game-time he could well force his way into Farrell’s plans for next year.
Certainly, the timing of his arrival into the international set-up could not have been better in this respect.