Sean Farrell reports from Carton House
THERE’S JUST THE slightest hint of frustration from the normally easy-breezy Joey Carbery when the subject of training continues to crop up as a reference point for his form.
“I’ve done a lot of it.”
A sickening ratio. His broken hand in November won’t have hampered his ability to run and jump and cut and place-kick.
For a player who so clearly thrives on using his instinctive skill in gameplay situations, it’s been a long winter waiting in the wings for 20 minutes against Montpellier and, as it turned out, a watching brief in Paris.
With Jonathan Sexton cramping up before delivering a miraculous match-winner, it would seem sensible to now wrap the primary out-half in cotton wool, allow him to sit out a home meeting with Italy and be on all cylinders again for Wales’ visit on 24 February.
As an added bonus, that would allow Carbery a chance to start at 10 for just the second time this season. If he feels ready, that is.
“Well if Joe picks me. You have to trust his faith, because he’s the man who knows. I feel like I’d be ready to.”
“We train at such a high intensity, it does prepare you really well for games. Obviously game time, you can’t really create, but our training is probably as close as you can get to it. That does prepare you for games, but game-time is crucial as well.”
He adds: “(Schmidt) just said to go out and do your thing.
He has confidence in me, if I am thrown in there, to keep control. That’s given me a lot of confidence as well, knowing he’s got my back.”
While Carbery is also a live option to cover fullback. He has primarily been run at out-half since coming into Ireland camp last month. Any Test jersey is a good one to get, but the 22-year-old has never made any secret of his preference.
“More involved,” he says when asked why he prefers the out-half role, “I probably get the ball more, you implement yourself in the game a bit more.”
Ireland skills coach Richie Murphy signalled a clean bill of health for Sexton and the rest of the remaining squad, so Schmidt’s hand is unlikely to be forced into starting with his mercurial young talent.
“I don’t think it is a case of wrapping him in cotton wool,” Murphy says of Sexton.
I don’t think he needs that. He’s recovered really well from the game and is in good form this morning. He’s ready to go training and ready to play the match at the weekend.
“You just have to play it as the game comes. Joey hasn’t had a massive amount of time through the injury and when he did get on for Leinster he came on at fullback. He runs in our team at training at 10; that’s the best preparation for him at the moment.
“We can’t say when he will get on the pitch this week or how much time he’ll get. We can’t look at it like that just deal with the game as it comes and see where we go from there.”
After England ran up the score on their way to a bonus point win over the Azzurri on Sunday, there is certainly value in waiting to unleash Carbery as a replacement too, giving a different attacking threat for a tiring Italian defence to cope with.
Whether he’s given starter’s orders or playing the understudy again, Carbery’s frustration rarely spills over. And watching Sexton in action in Paris was further evidence that he is studying under the right mentor.
“He showed huge character and huge mental strength to work the way up the pitch and kick a 45 metre drop-kick isn’t easy. Especially with a greasy ball, bit of wind as well,” says Carbery.
“If you’re competing with the best you’ll have to be better yourself. I’m looking at it that way rather than: ‘not being played’. He’s making me better and I know me being better will make me better as well.
“If you watch the last five minutes, if I can take half of what he did there and put it in my game then I’ll be improving every day.”
With any luck, Carbery won’t have to execute in quite as dramatic fashion on Saturday.