It has been a long wait for both parties, but Andy Farrell will finally get the opportunity to be Joey Carbery’s head coach in a Test match when Ireland host Japan in the Vodafone Summer Series.
Since featuring off the bench against the Japanese at the 2019 Rugby World Cup, Carbery has played a grand total of 46 minutes in a green jersey, between the subsequent meetings with Samoa and New Zealand at the same tournament.
The latter game took place on October 19, 2019, and owing to ankle and wrist injuries he sustained either side of that World Cup, the Munster out-half has missed out on Farrell’s coaching reign to date.
He finally returned for Munster in February’s Guinness PRO14 win over Cardiff Blues and managed to squeeze in nine appearances (including six starts) in advance of the summer international window.
Ahead of tomorrow’s 1pm kick-off at the Aviva Stadium, Farrell said he has been impressed by Carbery’s mental resilience and is delighted to have him back in the fold.
“It has been a long time between drinks for him being in an Ireland squad. I’ve absolutely no doubt through those dark days that he was thinking about getting back to this stage,” he acknowledged.
“To be able to give him a start in this game, with a decent side around him, is great for his development. We’ll always judge people in an Irish shirt when they step on the field at the Aviva, but Joey has been through a lot and this is part of his recovery process as well.
“This will stand him in good stead for the rest of the summer and it will certainly stand to us all for next year. As far as club rugby is concerned, his last game for Munster in Italy (against Zebre) was his best.
“That’s unbelievably positive. I’m sure he’s unbelievably excited and proud of himself to get back to this stage. The ankle looks good and he looks in fine fettle.
“All the skill that we know that Joey Carbery has got is there. How he orchestrates the game on the day is something that we’ll all judge, but the team’s got something to do with that as well.”
While Shane Daly and Craig Casey, who are both on the bench this weekend, have just a single appearance each under their belts for Ireland, their Munster colleague Gavin Coombes is the sole uncapped player in the matchday squad.
His selection as replacement back rower is just reward for a terrific season in red, with the west Cork man scoring a tremendous 15 tries in 22 appearances for his province.
Included amongst his haul was a hat-trick against the Ospreys last November and a four-try salvo in a win over Zebre at the end of their PRO14 Rainbow Cup campaign.
If the 23-year-old Coombes can transfer these stellar performances into the Test arena, then Farrell is confident he will have another gem on his hands.
The first meeting I have in most camps is that I want people to come out of themselves straight away. The reason that I want them to come out of themselves straight away is because we’ve not got any time to waste.
“You’ve got to give your best version of yourself and that’s why you’ve been selected.
“I’m excited about seeing Gavin’s form from club transfer onto the international stage because if it does, he’s going to play pretty well.”
Coombes is one of 12 international novices in the Ireland camp for this series, while several others have 10 caps or fewer. From Farrell’s point of view, this reflects the diversity within the group that has been selected for summer duty.
“Even the likes of Peter O’Mahony, who was on the last Lions tour. He’s not had to deal with a group like this before. His dynamics have completely changed and how he brings people along with him is unbelievably important,” he explained.
“You’ve got guys that have been on the bench quite a bit and now they’re getting some starts. You’ve got guys that have six or seven caps.
“The likes of Hugo Keenan and Caelan Doris, they’ve come in and done unbelievable jobs for us at the start of their international career.
“They’ve been dragged along and helped through by the guys that are out there (with the British & Irish Lions) in South Africa and the three guys (Jonathan Sexton, Cian Healy and Keith Earls) that are sat at home, taking some well-earned rest.
“The likes of Caelan and Hugo, they’ve had to step up. They’re in the leadership group. They’re not looking after themselves anymore. They’re not trying to find their feet.
“They’re actually stepping up to be leaders within this group. That type of dynamic has been fascinating to watch.
“Over the last 10 days they’ve been working extremely hard, certainly mentally, to try and get up to the speed of what it takes to an international player in that short space of time.”
Despite falling to a 28-10 defeat at the hands of the Lions at BT Murrayfield last weekend, the general consensus was that Japan came out of that warm-up game with their heads held high.
The Lions took to the field in Edinburgh with some big names on show – including seven Ireland players in the starting XV – but came under intense pressure for much of the second half.
The days of Japan being considered a minnow are well and truly in the past, and this is something that Farrell is fully aware of. He added:
They’re a formidable side and I think they would have looked at the Lions and seen so many opportunities that they could have taken. I’m sure they rue those chances.
“It just shows the quality. They’re playing against the best of the best there. These are a quality outfit. I think they sit at 10th in this moment and time in the world rankings, not that that means much.
“Honestly they can beat anyone on any given day as they proved in the World Cup with us. They’re a quality side that are just going to keep getting better and better.
“This is a proper Test match for our boys and as I said, a different group. A diverse group that’s got a challenge on their hands at the weekend.”