CHICAGO (Reuters) - Coach Joe Schmidt believes "fierce competitor" Joey Carbery deserves his rare start for Ireland in their opening match of the November international series against Italy at Soldier Field on Saturday as he tests the depth of his squad in Chicago.
Carbery, 23, has started just three of his 12 previous tests as he sits behind Johnny Sexton in the pecking order for the number 10 jersey, but Schmidt is full of praise for what the New Zealand-born pivot brings to the team and how he has settled at new club Munster this season.
"Joey's an affable character and a fierce competitor so it's not overly surprising that he's fitted in well at Munster, especially because he knew so many of the players before he went there," Schmidt told reporters.
"His running game is a strength as is his work ethic, so that's always a good starting point.
"At the same time, being new into an environment and having to run the game is a challenge but I think he's doing a good job of it and he seems to be getting increasingly comfortable with it."
Carbery made his Ireland debut at Soldier Field in the historic 40-29 victory over world champions New Zealand in 2016 when he replaced Sexton for the final 22 minutes.
Schmidt has also praised captain Rhys Ruddock as the blindside flanker plays his first test in 2018.
"Rhys has had some real frustrations with injury. He was really impressive last November and led the team superbly in Japan (in June 2017). He's a workaholic on the pitch and prepares incredibly well off it, so he’s an ideal leader in the absence of Rory (Best), Pete (Peter O'Mahony) and Johnny (Sexton)."
Fullback Jordan Larmour and lock Tadhg Beirne will make their first international starts in what is an experimental line-up.
Schmidt admits he has tempered his own expectations of the team given the circumstances.
"The pessimistic side of me is hoping for no injuries. The optimistic side of me is hoping for a really good performance, albeit in a very short window that that group have had together," he said.
(Reporting By Nick Said; Editing by Keith Weir)