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'Ross knows he’s going well and he’s getting the support from his team'

Joey Carbery has dominated much of the discussion after his performances for Ireland this month, but he’s still stuck behind Ross Byrne in Leinster’s pecking order.

Image: Billy Stickland/INPHO

THE OUT-HALF depth chart with Ireland, and by extension Leinster, is an issue that has taken up more than its fair share of spotlight over the month of November.

The matter revolves around the limited game-time Joey Carbery was able to get as a number 10 in his province before being thrust back onto the international stage when he replaced Jonathan Sexton to for a late cameo against the Springboks before a sparkling start – though injury denied him a finish – against Fiji.

But last Friday night, the forgotten man in circuitous argument showed why he is keeping Ireland’s second-choice out-half from being Leinster’s second choice out-half.

The Dragons were far from the most suffocating of opposition, but Ross Byrne was utterly ruthless in punishing the visitors’ lapses in the RDS last week. His passes were smooth and on target, his kicks from hand and tee were clean and accurate and, most importantly, the decision-making that preceded that execution was razor sharp and he barely allowed defenders a beat before they could look up to realise that a try was on the way.

“I am delighted for Ross because he has been involved in all of our games this year,” said Leo Cullen after hearing Byrne’s name boom out on the PA to herald the man-of-the-match award.

Ross Byrne gets past James Benjamin Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

“Ross was controlling the game really well,” says Noel Reid, the experienced voice on Byrne’s shoulder throughout the contest, “I was trying to help him out as much as I could.”

“Just giving him eyes I suppose. He’s got enough (on the field) to try to control himself. So it’s just being an extra set of eyes for him and seeing what sort of shapes we can play, organising forwards outside him to take a bit of pressure off him, and let him do the stuff he did during the game.

“I thought he kicked really well, he carried well, so just to help him out as much as I can.”

The help Reid describes above doesn’t make this a case of hand-holding. He would try to perform the same role if it were Sexton inside him — though there’s usually plenty of advice flowing back from the senior out-half too.

For all that’s promising and impressive in Byrne’s performance then, does he get enough credit for working his way up past Carbery to take a tight grip on the understudy spot beneath a two-time Lions out-half?

Ashton Hewitt tackled by Noel Reid Source: Ben Whitley/INPHO

I suppose it’s up you lads to be raving about him, not me,” Reid nods to the table of journalists around him.

“Ross knows he’s going well and he’s getting the support from his teammates and coaches, so that’s all that matters really.

He’s playing well, he’s training well, he’s controlling the team, he’s relatively young and new and I don’t know how many caps he has but he’s still improving and gaining experience all the time. It’s an exciting time for him, I suppose. “

“He’s a pretty cool character. A bit like myself, he’s just trying to look after his own shop and I think just anytime he gets picked, just trying to do his best and again, obviously in Leinster every position is so competitive and you put your best foot forward, and it’s up to the coaches to pick you then.”

Through Byrne’s command of the position in Sexton’s absence this season,  there is a certain element of panic around the lack of on-the-job experience  Carbery is obtaining – and that will not be helped by his fractured wrist through December.

Cullen is typically calm and even in his view. Carbery has made no secret that he wants to be considered among the world’s very best some day, and this is a path that the very best have cantered along before.

Leo Cullen and Noel Reid Source: Oisin Keniry/INPHO

“We discussed the comparison with a Beauden Barrett character, who played a lot at 15,” says Cullen, who is growing weary of calls to air-lift Carbery to another province.

“(Barrett) was 24-25 before he really took the reins as the 10 which gives him that different perspective. Even like a Dan Carter, who played a lot at 12 in the earlier part of his career outside (Andrew) Mehrtens quite often. That exposure is good for 10s.”

And the way Byrne is going, when Carbery returns in the New Year he will still have to enjoy the exposure he can get at fullback.

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Sean Farrell

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