In-form Carbery sets his sights on Ireland’s number 10 jersey

A LOT HAS changed in Joey Carbery’s world in the last year, but now that he has settled seamlessly into his new role at Munster, the out-half has his sights firmly on Ireland’s number 10 jersey.

The only problem is that Johnny Sexton — the World Rugby Player of the Year — is still very much in possession of it.  

Carbery speaking to the media at Carton House earlier. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

Carbery came off the bench in four of Ireland’s games during last year’s Six Nations, including the Grand Slam-clinching win at Twickenham, while making starting appearances against Australia and USA in 2018.

The 23-year-old has hit the ground running with the southern province this season, gaining the experience and exposure Joe Schmidt demanded to push his case for selection at international level.

Carbery, having endured a difficult day against Castres back in December when missing three of his seven place-kicks, has hit a rich vein of form for Munster, successfully landing all 20 of his kicks at goal in both the Heineken Champions Cup and Guinness Pro14 since. 

In guiding Munster to the Champions Cup quarter-finals, Carbery not only finished the pool stages as the competition’s leading points scorer [68], but his performances — including a man of the match display against Gloucester at Kingsholm — earned him a nomination for the EPCR Player of the Year award.

Carbery, capped 16 times, is now in a strong position to push Sexton — who hasn’t played since Leinster’s defeat to Munster over Christmas — for a starting berth against England at the Aviva Stadium on Saturday.

“I suppose all I can do is keep getting the experience under my belt and keep getting the games and minutes in with Munster,” he said at Carton House this afternoon.

“I’m playing week in, week out [with Munster] at such a high level. I’m learning kind of as I go, learning on the job. I’m loving every minute down there and you have your good and your bad days, but you take what you can from each.”

With a World Cup fast approaching on the horizon, Schmidt may also use the championship window to give Carbery more minutes in the pivot position, having shown his ability to manage a game off the bench previously.

“I’d love to start all five games but it’s up to Joe,” he continued. “Joe is the best person to pick the team and he knows what’s right so you’ve got to back whatever call he makes. I’d like to get game time but Ireland comes first and whoever the man for the job will get picked.

Carbery in training on Thursday. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

“I know if I get picked I’ll go out and do the job. I feel confident, but it’s up to Joe.”

Carbery believes his game management has improved since last year’s Six Nations after starting regularly for Johann van Graan’s side, but insists his relationship with Sexton has not changed in any way since his move south.

“No, I don’t think so at all,” Carbery said.. “Everyone in this group is trying to make Ireland better and if that makes the players better, which competition does, then that’s a winning environment. The more we push each other it will benefit Ireland. Nothing has changed, the more competition makes both of us better.

“Every training session is a pretty high standard. The players aren’t afraid to tell each other when there’s a mistake so there’s a really high standard expected from everyone. It has been good. Pretty tough conditions out there — it’s cold and wet, and I think that’s what it’s going to be like on Saturday. We’re in a good spot.”

And what of the challenge England will pose in Dublin in Saturday’s Six Nations opener?

“They’ve got threats all over the board,” Carbery adds. “Up front, physicality obviously and then out wide they’ve got some real speed and pretty dangerous runners. We have to be pretty sharp everywhere, expect the unexpected.

“Stick to our guns, we’ve trained pretty hard the last few days and had a good week last week so hopefully, we’ll have the right system.

“It’s a really big week ahead and we’re obviously very excited to get back into the Aviva and play in front of a full crowd. It’s a big week.”

Join us to preview the Six Nations with Simon Zebo, Murray Kinsella and Gavan Casey on Thursday @7pm in Liberty Hall Theatre Dublin.