When Joey Carbery announced that he was making the move from Leinster to Munster, it was common knowledge that the youngster was making the move to get more game time at out-half, rather than coming off the bench for Johnny Sexton and only getting the starting job if Leinster’s golden boy was out injured.
This reasoning was seen as accurate and sensible to the vast majority of both rugby fans in Ireland, and rugby journalists within the media. But, there were a small number of voices within the rugby community who were adamant that Carbery had a bright future ahead with Leinster at the fullback position, and that idea isn’t very far fetched.
Carbery had some world class performances for Leinster in the 15 jersey, (example linked below) even with Rob Kearney being in relatively good health and substantial form for Leinster at the time. Yet these select voices saw Carbery as a god like utility back that could fill in at 10 or 15 depending on injuries and at worst he’d come off the bench and finish off the game.
These voices also argued that Carbery’s move to Munster would be seen as the beginning of the improper use and contamination of his potential. Naturally this theory is not one I’d agree with, and it has been more or less debunked with Carbery excelling with Munster, regardless of the number of worrying injuries he sustained. However Carbery’s future as a world class 10 with Munster could turn out quite differently then how he initially envisioned, and here’s why…
Joey Carbery announced he was signing for Munster in the summer of 2018 while only having visited Limerick once, while playing an away game for Clontarf. He told Newstalk’s ‘Off The Ball’ that the decision to move was mutual between both him and Leinster, he also seemed honest and agar about moving out from Johnny Sexton’s shadow.
Despite these promising performances at fullback for Leinster, Carbery immediately made an impact for Munster in the 10 jersey until he suffered an injury at the 2019 Rugby World Cup which sidelined him for over a year. However, during Joey’s absence Munster added substantial talent to their out-half roster in the form of Ben Healy, while also leaning on relatively reliable JJ Hanrahan, who has since moved to Clermont.
Ben Healy in particular drew significant attention when he became a regular name on the Munster team sheet early last year, he started to rack up points off the tee, had an exceptional ability to kick for touch and territory as well as showcasing phenomenal leadership as a young, first team out-half. His performances throughout the year resulted in him being linked to Glasgow Warriors who were in need of a reliable 10, in addition to Healy’s eligibility to play for Scotland.
After a few weeks of deliberation, Ben Healy put pen to paper on a one year deal back in March showing he was committed to staying with munster for at least another year and would fight for the number 10 jersey. However, this could result in a dilemma for both Johan Van Graan and Munster rugby for the upcoming season and as time goes on.
Healy is undoubtedly a talented and ambitious out-half who is on the trajectory to have a long and successful international career, in addition to his club ambitions. However, a player of Healy’s caliber is unlikely to be satisfied coming off the bench for much longer.
Thus, Munster and Van Graan are at risk of putting Healy in the same position Leinster put Carbery in resulting in his exit from the club. Munster have also done very well over the past few years in adding talent to their roster from both outside signings and from the academy, however this does leave Van Graan with less avenues to explore as he attempts to keep both Healy and Carbery happy in red.
The significant improvement of Mike Haley at full-back along with the return of Simon Zebo, makes the possibility of Carbery returning to full-back for Munster increasingly unlikely. Although Carbery is now considered a specialised out-half, as I mentioned before, there are many examples that argue Carbery excelling at 15.
Healy however, is far less likely to change positions. He and Carbery have vastly different playing styles while Healy has never played high level rugby in any position other than 10. Carbery on the other hand, has won a man of the match award in Champions cup quarter-final at fullback, pictured below.
What makes things even more complicated, is the presents of Jack Crowley. Although the young out-half is behind Healy in terms of selection, he too is a phenomenal talent that Van Graan will want to retain and use.
Crowley began to turn heads from his performances for the Irish U20’s and the Munster A’s in particular. With a solid boot off the tee as well as his sensational running ability, Crowley caught the attention of La Rochelle head coach and Munster legend Ronan O’Gara, who propositioned the young 10 with a move to the french side. It’s also important to note that at the time, La Rochelle were currently on top of the Top14 table.
Crowley signed his first senior contract in May, proving he too was staying to fight for the Munster 10 jersey. choosing his beloved home club he spent his childhood supporting, over a promising french club with a clear shot at Champions Cup and Top14 glory. In doing so, he also turned down the opportunity to be taken under the wing of Ronan O’Gara, who is not only one of the games most successful players ever, put perhaps the games most revered coach today.
Van Graan now has to attempt the impossible and try to strike a harmony among these three world class out-halves, and with all his power avoid any one of these three players finding themselves in a situation similar to one that Carbery left Leinster because of.
Carbery and Healy’s contracts are up for renewal at the end of 2022, while Crowley’s contract will see him to 2023, meaning that Van Graan’s window for striking harmony between this tremendously talented group of players is very narrow.
Having depth in a squad is paramount when building a Champions Cup winning team but if the players within the squad don’t feel valued of properly utilised, foreign opportunities begin to seem much more attractive and this is something Ronan O’Gara at La Rochelle and Danny Wilson at Glasgow understand perfectly.
Rugby does have a tribal element and Munster’s players do identify with the club on a personal level. However, players switching allegiances, for both club and county, are becoming evermore prominent within the game.
Some may argue that Healy and Crowley have yet to earn their stripes while the experience of Carbery and Zebo for instance takes priority. Others may speculate that Van Graan will select his team purely on form, meaning no player is safe from being dropped if someone is out performing them in training.
I believe that there’s a Champions Cup winning team in the Munster set up as we speak, but one of the trickiest parts is putting the right players in the right positions. One thing that is certain, is that Van Graan will try out a lot of different combinations throughout the season’s early weeks, in an effort to strike a perfect combination.
Carbery’s MOTM performance at 15 for Leinster vs Wasps in the 2017 Champions Cup quarter final: https://youtu.be/PPeQmFwsL0g and just incase you forgot how good the man is while he was out with injury: https://youtu.be/xPhwVMmqlys
Here’s one of Healy’s best performances for Munster thus far against Scarlets last October: https://youtu.be/AfW3YgLpXo4
Here are some highlights from Jack Crowley’s Irish U20 days: https://youtu.be/5OE4ThxkA0Y