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Dublin: 12 °C Tuesday 13 November, 2018
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Carbery shows class throughout ferocious battle

The out-half had a sinking feeling when he his wind-assisted clearance kick invited pressure. But he will be stronger for the experience in Sandy Park.

Image: Billy Stickland/INPHO

Sean Farrell reports from Exeter

IN SO MANY ways, Saturday was a day of old Munster, though coloured by the frightening physicality of modern rugby and with sparkling hints of what is yet to come from the province.

Sandy Park is a place where a big, deep dig is required at the best of times, let alone a windswept afternoon locked in the sights of the Premiership leaders.

In Joey Carbery, there was unmistakable brilliance attempting to wriggle free of an incredibly punishing clash of two teams who pride themselves on their ability to force the issue.

This was far from the ideal day for Carbery to showcase his wide array talents, but he found a forum nonetheless. That ultra smooth sunning style seemingly allowed him click into a high gear and burst to make openings and potential overlaps when CJ Stander breached the sky blue line and when Tadhg Beirne forced a turnover. He sent zip-line passes flying to hit targets left and right. Lesser opponents would have unveiled a gap.

In extremely difficult conditions, his distribution was a cut above and he can take enormous game management experience from the encounter. Not least from the late kick that was caught and carried all the way from the Munster 22 over the Chiefs’ dead ball line with time almost up on the 10-10 outcome.

“He said his heart fell right down to his stomach with that last play,” said head coach Johann van Graan of the wind-assisted knife edge Munster found themselves on.

It was 100% the right decision, but the wind just took it. He was then hoping it would bounce and hit the post, but it just kept going and going.”

Instead of breaking Carbery’s heart, the moment is a mere footnote, one soon forgotten outside of Exeter’s list of ‘what ifs’ thanks to Munster’s resolve to keep the hard-hitting unbeaten Premiership leaders out for 22 long phases.

“For a 22-year-old fly-half, he was brilliant. He gave a great 80 minute performance,” added Van Graan, delighted to see his brightest recruit clock up a fourth straight start in the number 10 shirt.

“He played very well tonight. I think he managed the game brilliantly. I don’t think anyone who wasn’t down there on the pitch would realise just how hard it was to manage a game in those conditions.

“Our half-back pairing did really well. I think we should also give a special mention to Mike Haley. He hasn’t played that much in a few weeks and to put in a fullback performance like that, in this wind, is very good.

“We had a chat before the game and he said it was incredible the amount of games he is getting as a 10 now. He gave a great 80 minute performance.”

Van Graan of course, was reared on rugby, deeply entrenched in the South African system at all levels. So he was asked how Carbery stacks up against the ‘Bok playmakers he has come across.

Exeter Chief's Dave Ewers is tackled by Munster's Joey Carbery and Chris Cloete Carbery making one of his 11 completed tackles. Source: Inpho/Billy Stickland

“He is up there with some of the very best 10s I worked with in South Africa; Eric Hougaard, when he was 18. Morne Steyn, Johann Goosen… Joey is going to be a massive player for us in the future.

“To emphasise, it is not about Joey Carbery for him. It is all about the team and our performance today. We are glad to have him.”

That point was borne out by Carbery’s performance too. He didn’t present himself as a martyr as can sometimes happen running out-halves who have made their reputation by scything through defences. When pressure comes on fast, it’s easy to fall into tunnel vision and attempt a low-percentage cut. Carbery remained focused on the over-arching plan, backed his team to do the heavy lifting and was ready when the openings came along.

“You see what you get,” says his captain Peter O’Mahony.

“He is obviously a gifted footballer. He has a real calm way of going about his job. He is an attacking threat. He has a great passing technique. When you get that in a 22-year-old kid, it has the potential to grow in a very experienced out half.

Joey Carbery celebrates after the match Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

“He has played very little rugby there. You can see with the run of games he is getting he is settling in. He is getting comfortable with our gameplan. It is great to look around and you almost know what you are going to call together. There is a good bond there between the line out callers and the game management group and that is what you need in that dynamic.

“You need guys that you kind of know what they are thinking and he is on the right page.”

This is a Munster team who have lost six semi-finals since last lifting the Heineken Cup a decade ago. They have everyone on the same page, if they can just get their best players on the one field they will be an incredibly formidable outfit.

Because even without Conor Murray, Keith Earls, Tyler Bleydendaal or Chris Farrell to supply, complement or be fed by Carbery, they looked every inch a serious European title contender this weekend.

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About the author:

Sean Farrell

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