Connacht rugby star Jack Carty. Picture: INPHO/James Crombie.

O'Driscoll calls for Carty's return as Friend backs his man

Ireland rugby legend Brian O'Driscoll believes Jack Carty deserves another chance at international level.

Speaking on Newstalk's Off The Ball this week, O'Driscoll reflected on Ireland's Six Nations defeat to France, which came after the opening round loss to Wales.

With Johnny Sexton ruled out of the France game through injury, Billy Burns started at out-half with Ross Byrne introduced from the bench. However, many observers remain unconvinced about the merits of the alternatives to Sexton in this position.

"I actually think at this stage it is worthwhile giving Jack Carty another go," O'Driscoll contended.

"He probably presents a little bit more from an attacking point of view. He goes to the line quite aggressively and he's very capable of running with the ball himself. I don't think he does it as well as Johnny Sexton, but he definitely takes a step and hits the pass a little bit more than the two boys (Burns and Byrne) at the weekend. Maybe it is time to see if he deserves that second shot at it," O'Driscoll continued.

Athlone native Carty (a former Roscommon minor footballer) hasn't played for Ireland since the 2019 World Cup in Japan. The Buccaneers player started the clash against the tournament hosts and the fallout from that surprise defeat appears to have moved him down the pecking order. His last appearance for Ireland was in the subsequent World Cup match against Russia.

Overall, however, O'Driscoll believes Ireland are struggling to find an out-half even close to the quality of Sexton. Joey Carbery was seen as the most likely successor to Sexton's mantle, but he has suffered several injury setbacks.

"I think we are struggling at No. 10 to be brutally honest. I just feel that the gulf is still so considerable from Johnny Sexton down to the next player," said O'Driscoll on Off The Ball.

"For all the people calling for Johnny Sexton to be culled, his best is still considerably the best in Ireland - by a long shot. I can understand why he still has such an important role within that set-up because we saw the alternative at the weekend and unfortunately it is not to the lofty standards set by Ireland in recent years," added the former Ireland and Lions skipper.

Meanwhile, Connacht head coach Andy Friend offered strong support to Carty during the online press conference ahead of Saturday's PRO14 game against Cardiff Blues in Galway (7.35pm).

“We have regular chats. I’m aware of his frustration,” said Friend. “At the same time, I’m aware, as he is aware, that he needs to bring more consistency to his game, and that’s been the message that has been delivered to him. So he’s pragmatic about that, he still has ambitions to play for his country.

“I think he’s in a real purple patch at the moment. We’re starting to see the Jack Carty that in my first year here, I just thought he was brilliant, which led to that Irish selection and then a World Cup.

“I love seeing that bloke when he’s full of confidence. All we can do is work with him on our game plan and making sure he has got clarity on what he is doing, give him the support to say: ‘You are the man out there, go and do your stuff Jack’. We’re seeing that at the moment, and if he keeps that up, I believe the Irish team will have to come knocking for him,” continued the Connacht head coach.

“He’s a really talented player, we all see that. I think his ability off the boot is one of the best I’ve ever seen. He’s got a brilliant long kicking game, he’s actually got lovely little, what we call #putters', the grubbers that go through, his kicks for touch are fantastic. His ability to see space and put the ball there is probably the best I’ve seen in all honesty.

"When the confidence is up, and the confidence is up now, Jack just sees space and he has an amazing capacity to be able to manage the game and put the opposition on the back foot and keep us on the front foot. So that’s what he offers, and I reckon the key for us as coaches is to create an environment where he is allowed to go out and be that bloke. That’s what we’re trying to do here at Connacht, and if we can get that consistently in his game, I’m sure the Irish team will be looking at him,” he added.

Friend also had words of praise for Brideswell native Niall Murray, describing the second row forward as "a quality young player that is coming through".

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