DUBLIN (AP) — Joey Carbery has been given a chance to re-establish himself as Jonathan Sexton's heir apparent with a start as Ireland's flyhalf against Japan in their test on Saturday at Lansdowne Road.
Carbery hasn't played for Ireland since the 2019 Rugby World Cup. In a tournament warmup against Italy in August 2019, he injured his ankle. He still went to the World Cup and made three replacement appearances.
He hurt his wrist on Munster duty in January 2020, and while rehabbing decided to fix the ankle. But the recovery suffered a setback last August, and Carbery admitted to being demoralized and frustrated. He was finally ready in February, and proved it when he was welcomed with a crushing tackle from Cardiff's Rey Lee-Lo and finished with a sideline conversion.
As his minutes and fitness gradually improved, he started the Pro14 final. He's still in comeback mode but coach Andy Farrell decided he's ready for Ireland.
While Carbery was absent, Ireland failed to lock down Sexton's eventual successor. Jack Carty was apparently scarred by the Rugby World Cup and dropped, and Ross Byrne and Billy Burns didn't impose themselves. Ireland hopes Carbery can show glimpses of his old, commanding self in 22 previous caps while Sexton is being rested after more concussion symptoms.
Farrell brought 12 newcomers into his squad for the summer tests against Japan and the United States and talked about adding more squad depth -- “You don't get many windows like this to give people time” -- but only one, Munster back-rower Gavin Coombes, made the reserves.
Instead, he chose a side brimful of experience even with seven Lions in South Africa; regular captain Sexton, Cian Healy and Keith Earls rested; Andrew Porter, Garry Ringrose and Will Connors injured; Quinn Roux moved overseas; and CJ Stander retired.
There's nine players from the matchday 23 from their last test, the 32-18 mauling of England in March to finish the Six Nations. There's even eight from the historic 19-12 loss to Japan at the Rugby World Cup.
Lock James Ryan, recovered from an adductor injury, will lead a XV with more than 350 caps, which gives Ireland the savvy Farrell wanted to try and ensure his side was up to speed against a match-ready Japan side.
After losing to the British and Irish Lions 28-10 last weekend at Murrayfield, Japan has made four changes, one positional. The new caps are former Sunwolves backs, Fiji-born wing Semisi Masirewa and South Africa-born inside back Shane Gates. Masirewa is starting and Gates is in the reserves.
Masirewa was given the right wing vacated by Kotaro Matsushima, who replaced Ryohei Yamanaka at fullback. Scrumhalf Naoto Saito, on debut, and No. 8 Kazuki Himeno, the sole tryscorer against the Lions, were rewarded for their impacts off the bench with starts.
Japan had a better second half than the first, but the result was beyond it by halftime. The backline lacked penetration, while the forwards couldn’t hurt the Lions set-pieces.
"There is no doubt we will be better, but our opposition this weekend is also going to be better,” coach Jamie Joseph said. “Ireland at home in Dublin are incredibly tough.”
Ireland: Hugo Keenan, Jordan Larmour, Chris Farrell, Stuart McCloskey, Jacob Stockdale, Joey Carbery, Jamison Gibson-Park; Caelan Doris, Josh van der Flier, Peter O’Mahony, James Ryan (captain), Ultan Dillane, Finlay Bealham, Ronan Kelleher, Dave Kilcoyne. Reserves: Rob Herring, Ed Byrne, John Ryan, Ryan Baird, Gavin Coombes, Craig Casey, Billy Burns, Shane Daly.
Japan: Kotaro Matsushima, Semisi Masirewa, Timothy Lafaele, Ryoto Nakamura, Siosaia Fifita, Yu Tamura, Naoto Saito; Kazuki Himeno, Pieter Labuschagne, Michael Leitch (captain), James Moore, Wimpie van der Walt, Jiwon Koo, Atsushi Sakate, Keita Inagaki. Reserves: Kosuke Horikoshi, Craig Millar, Asaeli Ai Valu, Jack Cornelsen, Tevita Tatafu, Kaito Shigeno, Shane Gates.
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