Captain Johnny Sexton accepts it “makes sense” for Joey Carbery to retain Ireland’s fly-half role for Sunday’s clash with Italy, according to head coach Andy Farrell.
Veteran Sexton was pushing for an international recall after overcoming the minor hamstring issue which kept him of his country’s 30-24 Guinness Six Nations defeat in France.
But the 36-year-old has to be content with a place on the bench, with Farrell eager to give Munster player Carbery another chance to build on his solid performance in Paris.
“Back-to-back Test matches is a great experience for anybody really, especially somebody in a pivotal position like fly-half,” said Farrell.
“Joey handled the occasion very well last week. He stepped in very late in regard that Johnny got injured on the last full training day of the week and he obviously didn’t get the full week to prepare to run the side.
“He gets that opportunity this week on the back of a good performance.
“After analysing the performance, Joey would admit to you himself that he would love the opportunity to put a few things right and add to that performance and add to his experience at this level.
“It just makes sense and the person that agrees with that is Johnny. He’s the captain of the side, he wants what’s right for the team.”
Sexton has made just one substitute appearance for Ireland in the past 10 years – coming on for Carbery in the opening Test of the 2018 tour of Australia.
Farrell has opted for six personnel changes to his starting XV – two of which are enforced – following the loss in Stade de France as the Irish attempt to get their championship title challenge back on track.
James Lowe, Robbie Henshaw, Dan Sheehan, Ryan Baird and Peter O’Mahony all come in, while there is an international debut for Ulster full-back Michael Lowry.
Fleet-footed Lowry trained with Ireland last summer and has starred for his province in the United Rugby Championship and Heineken Champions Cup.
“Regarding Michael Lowry, we’re all excited to see him get his chance,” said Farrell. “He deserves it.
“He’s shown – not just the coaching staff, but the rest of his peers – that he’s ready to play.
“He’s comfortable in his own skin.
“He’s able to be himself under extreme pressure and it’s tough for someone to come into camp, especially when you’ve not got a cap or you are new to the group, to understand how we play, to pick up the new calls, to learn all the intricacies within the group, within the back three.
“And he’s unbelievably thorough in his preparation. We believe he’s ready.”
Hooker Sheehan and lock Baird make maiden Six Nations starts due to the injury absences of fellow Leinster players Ronan Kelleher and James Ryan.
With Sexton among the replacements and vice-captain Ryan out with an adductor issue, recalled flanker O’Mahony will captain the side.
Bundee Aki and Andrew Conway are rested in order to overcome niggles, while Iain Henderson, who is yet to start a game in this year’s tournament, following injury, is unavailable due to coronavirus.
Hugo Keenan is also given a break, affording uncapped Lowry his opportunity. Jack Conan is the other man to drop out, joining Sexton on a bench completed by Rob Herring, Dave Kilcoyne, Finlay Bealham, Kieran Treadwell, Craig Casey and James Hume.