James Crombie/INPHO

Caution and excitement valid as Carbery prepares to end injury nightmare

The brilliant playmaker could be last piece of the jigsaw needed by Munster.

WE’RE NOT EXPECTING the second coming tonight, but there is a JC on Munster’s bench that is cause for a little rejoicing.

No, not James Cronin, he starts.

Almost exactly a year on from major ankle surgery,  17 months on from the injury that threatened his World Cup involvement (then the three World Cup appearances that set him back again) and 13 months on from his third comeback attempt over last winter’s inter-pros (this one ended by a wrist injury) Joey Carbery is back in business.

There are enough reminders of the caution advised in the unsuccessful comebacks listed above. Beyond that, there is enormous cause for hope and excitement for Munster and Ireland alike.

Think back to the last glimpse of Carbery at the peak of his powers, floating across the Aviva Stadium turf, pulling an Italian defence around by a string and piercing it as though at will.

At provincial level, even if he were to return to only 80% of his powers he would represent the last piece of the jigsaw for Steven Larkham. Munster’s progress as an attacking force this season has been outstanding, add an international class 10 to a side who can go toe-to-toe with Clermont and their possibilities open up all the wider.

At Test grade, in the week that Jonathan Sexton appeared to finally concede the end is in sight for him, the promise of a returning Carbery would be a major fillip to a stuttering attack and a camp that has made little progress towards 2023. Again though, we are getting ahead of ourselves. The Athy man is a prodigiously talented playmaker that is well worth getting excited about.

Before he makes his most welcome return at the Arm’s Park tonight (kick-off 20.00, TG4/ eir Sport) Munster will look to JJ Hanrahan and Nick McCarthy to steer the ship.

Rory Scannell will operate at outside centre alongside Damian de Allende and they will have ample firepower outside them as Shane Daly has been released from Ireland camp to slot into the back three alongside Mike Haley and Calvin Nash.

Jack O’Donoghue is named at blindside and skippers the Conference B leaders as they bid to rubber stamp their qualification for next month’s Pro14 final.

That would be a fine stage for Carbery too.

Cardiff Blues: Matthew Morgan, Owen lane, Mason Grady, Rey Lee-Lo, Aled Summerhill, Ben Thomas, Jamie Hill; Corey Domachowski, Kirby Myhill, Dimitri Arhip, Seb Davies, Rory Thornton, Shane Lewis-Hughes, Elliis Jenkins, Josh Turnbull (CAPT).

ReplacementsLiam Belcher, Theo Bevacqua, Kieron Assiratti, James Ratti, Olly Robinson, Lewis Jones, Max Llewellyn, Dan Fish.

Munster: Mike Haley; Calvin Nash, Rory Scannell, Damian de Allende, Shane Daly; JJ Hanrahan, Nick McCarthy; James Cronin, Kevin O’Byrne, John Ryan; Jean Kleyn, Fineen Wycherley; Jack O’Donoghue (CAPT), Chris Cloete, Jack O’Sullivan.

Replacements: Niall Scannell, Liam O’Connor, Roman Salanoa, Billy Holland, Gavin Coombes, Paddy Patterson, Joey Carbery, Darren Sweetnam.

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