Carbery kicked three penalties against the All Blacks. Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Prime opportunity for Carbery to push Ireland career on against Argentina

The 26-year-old is set for his chance with Johnny Sexton out injured.

AMONG THE MANY storylines from last weekend, it was hard not to be pleased for Joey Carbery as he helped to steer Ireland home against the All Blacks.

Of course, he did the same on his Test debut back in 2016 and also featured in four of Ireland’s Six Nations games as they won a Grand Slam in 2018. The 26-year-old is not new to big occasions.

But there must have been some nerves as he replaced the injured Johnny Sexton on Saturday night. Carbery has had a tough couple of years since his ankle injury in August 2019. 

His first act was to fire over three points from straight in front of the posts. Carbery was soon called on to help make a try-saving tackle on Will Jordan down the other end after the All Blacks wing gathered Richie Mo’unga’s chip kick.

Carbery and Jamison Gibson-Park were relieved to see Akira Ioane’s possible score ruled out after he burst through the space in between them, while David Havili showed neat footwork to step past Carbery just before James Lowe’s vital tackle on Rieko Ioane.

Peter O’Mahony’s subsequent turnover penalty allowed Carbery to hammer over an impressive 50-metre penalty.

In the closing minutes, Carbery made a good low tackle on Havili off a scrum, then brought great linespeed to help channel the Kiwis into Tadhg Beirne turnovers twice – the second of them earning Ireland a penalty that Carbery slotted for the final 29-20 scoreline.

“A special word for Joey to come on and kick three good goals,” said Ireland captain Sexton post-match.

“He’s been out for so long and I was chuffed for him. I honestly wish I was there doing it but I was chuffed for him.”

It did feel like an important cameo for Carbery as he now looks to push his Ireland career on again. He started Ireland’s two July Tests this year, wearing the number 10 shirt against Japan and the US, but a chance this weekend versus Argentina is ideal.

joey-carbery-and-keith-earls-celebrate-as-andrew-conway-scores-another-try Carbery came off the bench against Japan too. Dan Sheridan / INPHO Dan Sheridan / INPHO / INPHO

Ireland boss Andy Farrell may well have given Carbery a start on Sunday anyway but Sexton’s knee/ankle injury means the Munster playmaker now looks a certainty to be at out-half against Los Pumas.

Harry Byrne, who ran the tee for Sexton and Carbery last weekend, will hope for his second cap off the bench, while Connacht’s Jack Carty has linked up with the squad to replace Sexton.

It is expected that Farrell will make a few other changes to his starting XV as Ireland look to complete a clean sweep of their November series but Carbery should have a strong team around him, meaning a good opportunity to show what he can do at Test level. 

It’s only a few years since he was putting some pressure on Sexton but it feels like a long time ago. The aforementioned ankle injury stunted Carbery’s development as he attempted to play through the 2019 World Cup with the issue and was sidelined for even longer as a result.

Having returned to action with Munster in February of this year after 13 months out of the game, Carbery has been trying to find his feet and, perhaps most importantly, the kind of confidence that players need to be at their best.

In that sense, last weekend felt like a big step and he will be eager to kick on. He has received complete and faithful backing from Johann van Graan in Munster and Farrell with Ireland. They are firmly of the belief that Carbery can fulfill the potential he has always possessed.

This weekend, Carbery will look to do the basics very well. He needs to show energy and aggression in defence, while bringing technical accuracy to his tackling. The Athy man has always been a creative player and Farrell would love to see Carbery’s vision, footwork, and darting runs come to the fore in this developing Ireland attack. At his best, Carbery has a range of attacking kicking skills too. 

His ability to call the right plays from set-pieces and help to organise Ireland’s attack shape in phase play will also be key, as with any out-half. While Farrell’s team often exit through their scrum-half’s box kicks, Carbery will need to contribute to the tactical kicking game too.

Sexton is still the main man but a good showing from Carbery on Sunday would be an important step forward for him and this Ireland squad.

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