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Analysis: Carbery debut gives Munster fans a glimpse of out-half's skills

The 22-year-old provided the assist for Dave O’Callaghan’s try at Thomond Park.

JOHANN VAN GRAAN said he was “pretty happy” and Joey Carbery is likely to have felt much the same after his Munster debut against the Cheetahs at Thomond Park.

The Ireland international out-half played the closing 27 minutes of Munster’s bonus-point Guinness Pro14 win on Saturday and must have enjoyed the excellent reception he received from the crowd as he replaced Shane Daly.

Joey Carbery Carbery made his Munster debut last weekend. Source: Oisin Keniry/INPHO

With Munster 17-0 up at that point and the Cheetahs already looking beaten, Carbery didn’t need to light up the Limerick venue but his first outing in red gave the province’s supporters a glimpse of what the future might look like.

There were signs of Carbery’s creativity and strong basic skills, as well as an encouraging link with fellow playmakers Rory Scannell and JJ Hanrahan, who moved from out-half to fullback when Carbery was introduced. 

A try-assisting pass for Dave O’Callaghan was a highlight for Carbery and had real echoes of the score Johnny Sexton created for James Lowe in Leinster’s Pro14 final win over Scarlets last season.

As we join play in the 71st minute below, Munster have had an initial mauling effort repelled and worked one phase infield through Stephen Archer’s carry.

In the shot below, Rhys Marshall has just picked to carry to the left of the ruck [yellow].

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We can see that O’Callaghan [white] is holding the width on the right-hand side, with Darren Sweetnam having moved infield to work with Carbery [blue].

Munster’s forwards held the width particularly well against the Cheetahs and it’s a trend that will be worth following this season.

Carbery is scanning the Cheetahs defence as these forward phases are being played out and just as Billy Holland makes the next pick-and-go for Munster, Carbery identifies the opportunity back down the short side.

Switch

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As we can see above, Carbery and Sweetnam are already moving off to the right as Holland carries the ball.

Move

While the Cheetahs do have another defender out of shot on the right of the shot above, Carbery feels himself and Sweetnam can create an overload on that side of the ruck as they team up with the lingering O’Callaghan.

And that’s exactly what happens as they sweep right and Carbery throws a well-judged skip pass to the flanker.

Overload

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One of the main issues for the Cheetahs here is that number eight Jasper Wiese is still getting up off the ground as James Hart is reacting to Carbery’s switch and firing a pass to him.

As we can see below, Weise [white] is the third defender out from the ruck for the Cheetahs.

Issues

In an ideal scenario, this third defender would mark up on the opposition first receiver – Wiese on Carbery in this case.

We can see on the left of the shot that Cheetahs lock Walt Steenkamp is calling and pointing for Wiese to fulfil that role, but Wiese is unable to react in time.

We can also see Cheetahs wing Sibahle Maxwane moving to sweep in behind the defence [yellow] but he too has moved too late to prevent O’Callaghan scoring.

Carbery’s running line is simple and effective. He gets outside Wiese and targets Steenkamp’s inside shoulder, forcing the big lock to turn his shoulders in and tackle the Munster out-half [white below].

Bite

That, in turn, invites final defender Tian Meyer to bite in on Sweetnam, leaving O’Callaghan free on the edge. 

Carbery makes a fine read of the situation and opts for a powerful pass to O’Callaghan, across the face of Sweetnam.

Finish

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As we can see, Sweetnam’s right hand does make brief contact with the ball and while the official match stats might give the Munster wing an assist in this case, it’s quite clear that Carbery is the creator. 

Carbery had 14 passes overall against the Cheetahs and they were largely accurate after his very first pass on a screen play was slightly behind Scannell. 

The example below again underlines a simple execution of the basics from Carbery in phase play.

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Screen

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Carbery is at first receiver and the work outside him makes his decision easier.

As we can see below, Scannell [white] is a viable option to receive the ball, running a hard line back against the grain and to the inside shoulder of Meyer.

Line

Meanwhile, Sweetnam [yellow] is bouncing out the back of Scannell to provide an apparent option for Carbery to pull his pass back.

Meyer sits down on the threat posed by Scannell, opening up the space for Carbery to pass out the back.

The sharpest part of the play, though, is that Hanrahan [red above] is also working out behind Scannell and arrives from a slightly hidden starting position onto the ball.

With Sweetnam sliding wider to accommodate Hanrahan, Cheetahs centre Nico Lee is left in the exposed position below.

2-1

He has to bite in on ball-carrier Hanrahan [white], allowing the Kerryman to slip Sweetnam into space.

Cheetahs wing Maxwane adjusts in from the outside late and tackles Sweetnam, but his footwork gives him time to offload to O’Callaghan – who is again providing the width on the right.

With Neil Cronin’s positive support play meaning he’s the first arriving player to the breakdown after O’Callaghan beats Meyer with a nice step, it’s interesting to see Carbery stepping in as the halfback.

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Van Graan spoke post-match about how he wants all of his backline playmakers to be comfortable stepping in as makeshift scrum-halves when Munster are pursuing tempo in their attack.

Carbery certainly fits the bill, having played much of his underage rugby as a scrum-half, and his pass here is accurate and released with the minimum delay.

Carbery follows up by playing scrum-half at the next ruck too, underlining Munster’s desire to keep the tempo high with their foot on the Cheetahs’ throat.

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We can see a glance over the shoulder from Carbery as he approaches the ruck – just checking where Cronin is – and then there is no hesitation as he heads for the ball and fires off another excellent pass from the ground.

Hooker Rhys Marshall is the receiver and he plays a sharp screen pass behind academy back row Gavin Coombes to Scannell, who in turn shifts it to Hanrahan, with the fullback exposing more poor defensive work-rate and decision-making from the Cheetahs to step back inside and cross under the posts untouched.

It was intriguing to see Munster using lots of pull-back passes like this one from Marshall throughout their win on Saturday, particularly from forwards.

Van Graan has stated his ambition to make Munster a better passing team and the early signs this season are positive, even if the province will understand that far greater tests of their skills lie ahead.

It was also promising to see Carbery creating in tandem with Scannell and Hanrahan, as was the case on a couple of other occasions. 

The fact that Scannell has history as an out-half means he provides playmaking quality – three passes for linebreaks against the Cheetahs underlines that again – and he will be an important foil for Carbery or whoever plays in Munster’s 10 shirt this season.

Scan

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As we see above, Scannell is a willing ball-carrier when Carbery opts for the front-door option and the Cork midfielder is likely to be a vital cog for the province again this season.

All in all, it was a positive first outing for Carbery at Thomond Park, although he is likely to be self-critical about losing possession in contact inside the Cheetahs 22 in the 62nd minute.

Kick

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There was the excellent linekick above from one Munster penalty – providing the platform for O’Callaghan’s try – and he made three basic tackles without fuss.

It will be fascinating to see how Carbery builds on his debut and also how he handles goal-kicking duties this season.

With Munster travelling to Glasgow on Friday to take on Dave Rennie’s Warriors, Carbery will be hopeful of taking over in the 10 shirt to lead his new team from the start.

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About the author:

Murray Kinsella

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