JACK CONAN MAY have received the sponsor’s man of the match award on Saturday night but he spent the duration of his post-match press conference eulogising of a team-mate’s performance.
On a night when Leinster impressed across the board, he could have been talking about any player in blue but the name on everyone’s lips at the moment is Joey Carbery.
The out-half returned to provincial duty for the visit of Dragons and displayed all his growing maturity with an influential display in an important bonus point win.
Once the Clontarf man had crossed for the fourth try shortly after the interval, Leo Cullen whipped him off ahead of next weekend’s trip to Northampton Saints. Job done and a pleasure to watch.
Carbery injected pace and precision into every Leinster move and orchestrated proceedings from the off as well as scoring his third try for the province.
Afterwards, Conan and the head coach were full of praise for the 21-year-old who has enjoyed a meteoric rise to become one of the most exciting talents in the country.
“Firstly, for someone who took from nine games playing in the AIL final to making his debut off the bench against the All Blacks, I think it is a testament to how humble and hard-working he is as a bloke,” Conan said.
“He’s fitted right back in this week. Even today, he’s made breaks, he’s electric, he’s got pace, he’s got a step, he can kick, he can pass. He is the future of Leinster Rugby, in my opinion.
“It has brought the standard up for everyone, to have this lad come in with virtually no experience and go out and play for Ireland. It is really deserving. It is great to see Joe give someone like that the opportunity to go and play.
“I know Joey’s only been in here a limited amount of time. But, who he is as a person, you haven’t seen the best of him yet. He’ll keep on growing and continue to put Johnny under pressure. He’s going to be a fantastic player in years to come as he is now already.”
While Carbery’s game is continually evolving, Leinster are already fully aware of his worth and have every faith in him to deputise for Johnny Sexton over the coming weeks.
With the picture over Sexton’s fitness still unclear, Carbery is in line to start at Franklin’s Gardens on Friday and potentially further beyond with Cullen’s decision to take him off after 50 minutes a clear indication of the role he’ll play.
“Again, it comes back to Joey playing nine games and having that temperament to go and play for Ireland,” Conan said of his ability to step up in big games.
“Even the other day, coming on against Australia in a position that he hasn’t played a lot in. It wasn’t a perfect game for him. But, personally, I wouldn’t have said that lad looks out of place.
“He did some great things. He has a great boot. He is good in the air. He’s quick. He’s strong. If Johnny’s not there? Yeah, it’s different. But, it’s a good different to have Joey there.”
On comparing the two out-halfs and the difference between their two games, Conan added: “Johnny and Joey are different style players. Johnny’s more of a tactician. He’ll kick the corners. He’ll play in the right areas of the field
“Joey is probably that bit more electric. He can make a break on his own try line, run a hundred metres and score.
“Not that Johnny couldn’t do it, Joey is just more likely to do it.
“They are different players. But, they both have fantastic qualities and they are both strong-willed guys who push themselves hard and push the team hard.
“They want only the best for themselves and everyone else around them.”
While Conan and Carbery received many of the accolades over the weekend, there were several standout performers for Leinster with Luke McGrath, Rory O’Loughlin, Dan Leavy and Peter Dooley all catching the eye.
With such strength in depth and the capacity to maintain that level of performance even without the international players, it puts Leinster in good stead heading into back-to-back Champions Cup fixtures.
“All those young guys put a smile on my face,” Cullen added. “I think the way they’re
pushing hard, making life uncomfortable for some of the more experienced
older fellas is a really, really positive thing for the club.
“I think the young guys are working really, really hard. It’s really pleasing some of the characteristics and dedication that they show. They all want to improve.
“The mindset they have is that… we do a lot of reviews for players and we might have three or four things for guys but a lot of these guys are coming in with eight or nine things themselves.
“So they’re constantly looking at the weaknesses of their game and not getting too far of themselves. They’re a pleasure to work with, a lot of them, and that is a credit to those who work in the academy as well. Because more and more of those guys are coming in and they are ready to go in at this level.
“You have seen that particularly this season so the work in the academy is certainly bearing fruit.”
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