Joey Carbery took the road less travelled

The road that took Joey Carbery from the leafy surrounds of Ballsbridge to the Cratloe Road was a little more convoluted than the M7 but the end result was the same.

Carbery in Limerick, in Munster, and primed for a shot at the Irish #10 jersey that would have been structurally impossible in a Leinster shirt, bar a catastrophic injury to Johnny Sexton.

Let’s be clear though – the easy decision for him to make would have been to stay at Leinster, scrap it out for a #22 or #23 shirt on big Heineken Cup games and wait to stake his claim for Sexton’s place in two or three seasons time.

But Carbery, with prompting from Schmidt and van Graan, will have realised that nothing is guaranteed in professional rugby and that a big opportunity now is better than a possible opportunity in three years when the whole landscape of the game might have changed.

Three years doesn’t seem like a lot of time, does it? Three years ago, Munster had just lost Hanrahan to Northampton, BJ Botha and Gerhard Van Den Heever were still Munster players, our marquee signing was Francis Saili and Paul O’Connell was about to head off to Toulon, followed out the door by Donncha O’Callaghan to Worcester.

In rugby, three years is a lifetime and Joey Carbery, it seems, is carpe-dieming the hell out of it in Limerick. That is to be applauded.

The impetus for this move came from two things – Carbery’s ability and potential to play at 10 at test level and the impasse he finds himself in at Leinster.

Joe Schmidt obviously thinks that Carbery has potential at 10 but at Leinster, Carbery only started at 10 once all last season. Sure, he had a few scrappy injuries that would have limited his availability at times for Leinster but when fit, most of his game-time came at fullback.

Carbery’s an excellent player so he could make it work at fullback, but it isn’t where he can be world class. Ironically, all the things that give him that “world class” potential at 10 are what make him work so well at fullback.

He’s incredibly quick, agile, durable in contact and has strike running ability in the wider channels but, to borrow and Eddie O’Sullivan-ism, playing Carbery at fullback hides his talent under a bucket.

This upcoming game against the Ospreys will be a good indicator of where Carbery is at. I’ve seen him improve Munster’s tempo and line running off the bench in the last two weekends but this game should be an opportunity to shape a game from the start. He’s got questions to answer but he looks like a guy who has all the answers ready to roll.

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Tom Savage

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