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Dublin: -1°C Monday 25 January 2021

'I'm happy wherever': Carbery refuses to complicate a game played on instinct

The 21-year-old Athy man makes the game look very simple as he glides through defences.

Image: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

TACKLING JOEY CARBERY looks like it has more in common with interviewing him than you might first think.

In both cases, he can seem cornered by older, heavier bodies. The questions and shoulders are ready to fly, yet he finds a way of skipping out of trouble. A pause to think, a smile and he’s off working in his alternate time-zone while everyone around is spinning the wheels.

The out-half at fullback was a breath of fresh air during Leinster’s Champions Cup quarter-final win over Wasps. The man of the match gong was sealed early as he assisted two of Leinster’s three first half tries with slick passing and deft cuts at the defensive line.

He certainly looked to have enjoyed playing in the number 15 shirt, with far more chances to shine than when he played the role for Ireland against Australia in November. So is he ready to fold that 10 ambition away?

“At the moment, I’m just kind of playing there with injuries and stuff, but I love just being on the pitch so I’m happy wherever,” the Athy man said deep underneath the West Stand of the Aviva on Saturday afternoon.

The injuries Carbery refers to are: Rob Kearney… and that’s about it. If head coach Leo Cullen was reluctant to trust in youth he could have easily dropped Springbok veteran Zane Kircher in there, or Isa Nacewa. Dave Kearney was marked fit and available last week – albeit after a long injury absence.

Carbery though, gave Leinster and Cullen something very different. The 21-year-old playmaker never shirked a chance to step up as first receiver. Not only does that maintain attacking fluidity if Jonathan Sexton is in or around the last ruck, but it forces some second-guessing among defenders once their primary target is back up.

I don’t try and get in front of him or anything, but if he’s in a ruck or something, if someone needs to be stood in, I’ll just jump in there and it’s good being able to tell the forwards where to go as well.”

“Having a second receiver like that is so much harder for defences,” says Cullen, “because otherwise they are just looking up and: ‘where’s the 10?’

“Then they can put real line-speed on that player. When you have somebody else to step up up – Isa does it at times and Robbie (Henshaw) and Garry (Ringrose) are adept at doing it as well so it is just about trying to change the point of attack. But yeah, Joey, he is confident, willing to try things all the time.”

That ‘bravery’ to try things does come at a price sometimes and Carbery, you sense, won’t be getting bruises from all the pats on the back he’ll get in the analysis  room today.

Leo Cullen Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

He looked to be drawing up a second wind when Kurtley Beale scorched past him before setting Willie Le Roux on his way to that horrific botched try, there were some very casual retrievals of loose balls in the 22 that brought pressure on his team and Cullen takes up one moment from the second half that will be picked through.

“He tries to strip (Joe) Simpson, who is probably one of the quickest guys on the field, and then we lose the ball in contact and it gets shipped away and it is an unbelievable finish from him.

You are all the time trying to get the balance, but you don’t want to knock too much out of them.”

“It’s more just about understanding the context of games, where are we on the field. It’s just trying to get that balance. As they get mature they get a greater appreciation of the bigger picture and how the game unfolds.”

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Joey Carbery Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

For Carbery’s part, as he stood with his lightweight footballer-esque physique and a club suit with more shirt fabric than usual to spare, any errors on his mind had long been washed away by his easy confidence.

“You’ve just got to move on because if you let it affect you the rest of your performance is going to go down, it’s not going to go well so you’ve got to be next-play focused.”

The short, breezy answers kept coming to a series of questions about the game, his mindset, his position of preference, the People’s Elbow dropped on him by Ashley Johnson — ‘you try to avoid it, it’s a physical game’ — do the rest of us over-think the game, Joey?

Source: GG Rugby/YouTube

“Take it as it is and play every play as you can,” he offers with a polite shrug.

“We know what the players around us are going to do, what lines they are going to take, that helps a lot and you can work to their benefits.”

And in turn the Athy man works to the benefit of the paying public, delivering touch after touch of class to break a European quarter-final open with flashes of brilliance.

“I think our results put smiles on people’s faces. If we keep training as we do and keep playing our game, I think we’re a very exciting team and there’s a lot to come from us.”

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Sean Farrell

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