Carbery happy to take charge in backline, even when it means over-ruling Sexton

A year on from his famous debut, the Athy man is doing more than operating as understudy.

JOEY CARBERY HAS ambitions befitting a man who made his international debut in a win over the All Blacks.

It was just days after his 21st birthday when the slight Athy playmaker was thrust onto the stage at Soldier Field, yet he looked incredibly assured at the tiller as Ireland did what no other Ireland team had done before.

Joey Carbery celebrates winning Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

His 22nd birthday was celebrated in more familiar surrounds, far from Chicago; a little kicking practice, some family time before the evening beckoned him back into camp in Carton House. After a year of meteoric rise, spare time is at a premium for the versatile Leinster star, but he’s happy to keep it that way as he works towards fulfilling his ambitions. And it’s that very work which he uses to keep himself grounded.

“The thing that’s probably the most (important to grounding himself) is just how much I want to achieve,” Carbery said at Carton House yesterday.

I want to keep getting better and hopefully maybe become one of the best players in the world. That would be my ambition.

“So if I can keep improving every day and getting better at certain things then will keep me grounded and that makes me want to work harder.”

Much of that work, and indeed the heights he aspires to, involves his team-mate with Leinster and Ireland – one Jonathan Sexton. Carbery calls the Lions 10 ‘a lot to live up’ in terms of standards, but there’s no shortage of effort on either side to bridge those gaps.

“There’s so many times after training I can go up and quiz him on what he has done and what I have done.

“If I sit down in front of a laptop he might pop his head over my shoulder and just say: ‘listen, stay square here, just give more space…’

Jonathan Sexton and Devin Toner Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

“He’s probably the best person I can learn from in the world at this stage, just on his detail, how well he knows the game. He’s such a good rugby brain, it’s really good just to be able to pick it and it helps me a lot as well, just to be able to see a different view other than just mine.”

Yet Carbery’s sheer footballing talent and willingness to be versatile has ensured he is more than just an understudy to Sexton. When deployed at fullback for Leinster he has been able to attack in tandem, a second 10 to step into the line, direct traffic and even overrule Sexton if necessary.

“Stu (Lancaster) has a big mindset of having both sides of attack, so me playing 10 previously and then playing at fullback, it can help being first receiver on the other side to Johnny. We have certain calls that overrule other calls, so if there’s definitely space on, there’s a call for that.

Joey Carbery Source: James Crombie/INPHO

“I think we work quite well together, like if one of us makes a mistake we can call each other up on it and if we do something well it’s like, ‘that worked well, let’s keep doing that’. So it’s good to have two sets of eyes on the pitch.”

With Rob Kearney’s fitness backed by Joe Schmidt’s selection, Carbery looks likely to bide his time and cover the two positions from the replacements bench against South Africa on Saturday. Though the obvious diplomatic response would be to lie and say he is happy playing anywhere, Carbery says out-half is his preferred position. But fullback isn’t a position that necessarily dulls the senses of talented 10s — you need only look as far back as Beauden Barrett.

“You get a lot more space at fullback, especially with the ball in hand. I love open-field running as well, you have more of an opportunity (for that), but when you kick from 10 you normally drop back as well so having that experience from 15 is good as well.

“If you know what is tough to defend as a fullback when you are defending at fullback, you will know when you are at 10 how hard it is for them where you put a ball. I do think they go part and parcel, hand in hand both attack and defence.”

Joey Carbery and Rory Best Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

A year is an incredibly long time in sport. So 53 weeks after a fresh faced uncapped kid celebrated a 21st birthday in Chicago, Carbery is more than comfortable putting a tight grip on a the reins, whether that comes with a start against Fiji or if called upon sooner to step in for Sexton.

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“That comes with the role of being a 10. You have to be assertive, you have to be dominant with your players. We have loads of calls but even if you make the wrong call if you are assertive and dominant and everyone knows what they are doing, it’s going to be more beneficial than if you’re a bit stop start, a bit unsure.

“A few coaches have been: ‘put your foot down, it’s you who is charge’. It took a while to get used to, but the closer you get to the players and the more bonding you do with them the easier it gets to tell them what to do. You can’t really use that as an excuse, that I was too nervous. You have to just be able to go: ‘okay, I am in charge now’. Just having that mindset of being completely in control helps.”

Talking a good game is one thing, it’s quite another to walk the walk when up against opponents who have the footage and time to figure out how to target you.

“Yeah, exactly. There’s a little bit extra pressure but I see it as a challenge.

“Even if they know me I can still do well. It just shows you’re doing your job well.”

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