Joey Carbery remains a doubt after a tough encounter, the first of the World Cup warm-up games in which Ireland easily defeated Italy by 29 points to 10.
It remains to be seen how serious the injury to the fly-half is, but the comments from the dressing room were upbeat. Joey had a strong game on Saturday and would be a major loss should he have to spend some time on the sidelines.
His versatility is something we know about, having the ability to play at out half fullback and also able to slot into the centre if the need arose. But his affinity with both the Leinster and Munster players is rare for an Irish pivot and something extra that he brings to the side; it would be sorely missed.
Carty came on as his replacement and closed the game out well. He kicked beautifully to turn Italian heads back towards their own half each time they coughed up the ball.
It was not a classic game, with far too many mistakes on both sides for comfort. Playing a full international as the first game of the season is always going to be tough, but the knock-on count especially was a little worrying.
While Jordi Murphy had a great game at number eight, he knocked the ball on more that he has ever done in the past. You could see that he was frustrated towards the end of the game. The competition in the back row is serious and he may have played himself out of contention with some of the mistakes.
I’d still take him on tour. He may need a game or two to get back up to full speed, but there were glimpses of what he can do on Saturday. He appears to be fully fit, lasting the full length of the game despite doing an amazing amount of running. He seemed to be at or around almost every break down and chased the backs on every foray into Italian territory. His match rustiness can be fixed and should not play against him, I hope.
Kleyn had a good debut, even though I thought he looked a little off the pace at times. His tackle count, at sixteen, is commendable and he made a number of decent carries. With only a few games less before departure, I’m not sure he did enough to book a seat.
The scrum was solid and that may play in Kleyn’s favour; locking the scrum is a key part of the game. Toner also had a good game and the pair seemed to gel together well.
The maul defence was not as crisp as it could have been, with the Italians gaining multiple penalties before scoring from one, early in the first half. This is a good area for them to concentrate on; it may produce a score against South Africa in the pool stages.
The Italians will have to beat either New Zealand or the Springboks if they are to have any chance of qualifying from their pool. While the World Champion All Blacks are having a horrible run of form, it is unlikely that the Azuri will pose them too many difficulties, however.
What about Ireland? It has not been a good year so far, with lacklustre games since our remarkable home-turf win over New Zealand. It seems a long time since the high optimism after that match.
The weekend’s win will not really improve the mood in the camp – we were expected to win comfortably. But it does give us a first win under the belt going into an extremely tough match against the English in their own backyard.
Both sides are likely to continue with some experimentation of players or combinations (England beat Wales on Sunday with a much changed team) but it is likely to be a similar game to that played in the Six Nations. There, England bullied Ireland up and down the pitch, forcing mistakes and taking their chances with confidence.
If we turn over the ball in the same way that we did on Saturday – there was lots of mishandling right across the team – then we are going to be punished. England did not play up to their own high expectations this year and will want to build their own momentum going into September.
Injuries are just a factor of high level sport. Carbery will be scanned once the swelling reduces but despite the Ireland coaches up-beat post match responses, it is a worrying thought that we could lose such a versatile and in-form player before the start the tournament.
Even assuming that Johnny Sexton is the first choice starter, there is comfort in having such a talented understudy in the wings, waiting for his moment to shine. I’ve no doubt that Carbery will be first choice for Ireland someday, and given the turnover at these events, there was a good chance that he would start an important match, however, if he is not fit before they leave, he may dropped in favour of one of the other out halves in the wider squad.
Would Joe risk taking an injured player on tour if he would not be ready for one, two or three games? Perhaps he might for someone as talented as Joey, but that may be unfair for Ross Byrne or Jack Carty, also hoping to make the thirty-one man squad.
Only time will tell. The result of that scan will be watched, talked about and discussed more than any of the results from this warm-up series.
The latest news is that Carbery will miss the remaining pre-tournament games but will be back in time for the first pool games. Given that he is so valuable, it is likely that Joey will be selected for the tour, however, it does cast a shadow over the remaining games.