'Proven' Carbery well able to steer Leinster ship if Sexton steps away, insists Nacewa
Published 01/12/2016 | 02:30
The scale of Ireland's momentous victory over Australia was not yet fully absorbed when Joe Schmidt decided to drop a seismic bombshell.
In almost complete contradiction to comments he made the previous week, the Ireland head coach said that Johnny Sexton might well need a sabbatical from the game so as to be "more robust" in future.
After Sexton was forced off in the 18th minute of Ireland's loss to New Zealand with an injury to his right hamstring, Schmidt baulked when asked if the out-half required an extended break.
Sexton was forced to sit out the Australia clash. Since then, Leinster have taken a diplomatic approach, with backs coach Girvan Dempsey saying that Leo Cullen and Schmidt could discuss the matter later.
However, Dempsey did mention that the province are hopeful that Sexton will be fit enough to feature in their pivotal Champions Cup tie away to Northampton on December 9, so the days ahead could prove informative.
Should Sexton's hiatus materialise, Leinster will be comforted by the previous occasions that Joey Carbery has stepped into the fold, though club captain Isa Nacewa is unsure whether Sexton will step away.
"Johnny struggles to let six days go by, or six hours, without kicking the ball or thinking about rugby," he said at the launch of the Canterbury Leinster Stories campaign.
"He's been fizzing lately, and look at the performances he's put in - it's been pretty special to see."
Carbery's rapid evolution has been special too: from guiding Clontarf to the AIL title in May to helping Ireland see out their first ever win over the All Blacks.
Sprung from the bench just before the hour when Sexton was withdrawn in Chicago, the 21-year-old took to his task like a seasoned operator, even slotting a late penalty.
While his performances in the Pro12 and Champions Cup had demonstrated his nerve and precocious talents, Carbery's display at Soldier Field was on another level, as was his cameo contribution against the Wallabies, from full-back in a makeshift Ireland backline.
Nacewa says he has seen enough from the young play-maker to be sure that, even in the event of Sexton's absence, Leinster will be equipped for the challenges to come.
"I have no issues with Joey stepping in - he's already proven that he can lead in our squad. We've got quite a lot of tough characters and senior players, and he's slipped in seamlessly and taken on the leadership responsibility," said Nacewa.
"He's already led us. He led us against Castres, he came on against Montpellier and has the highest level of experience in international rugby already."
Many of the elite No 10s, including Sexton and Ronan O'Gara, adopt a surly demeanour and bark instructions to get the best of those around them. While Nacewa has noted a steel in Carbery's character, he says the player tends to communicate through deed rather than word.
"He's as vocal as he needs to be, but a lot of the time he just backs his actions. You saw that against Castres, in his ability to just make something out of nothing," he said.
Nacewa, who was thrilled to see 17 Leinster players feature for Ireland in the autumn series, has largely assumed kicking duties for Leinster when Carbery has deputised for Sexton, but the veteran says the youngster also has designs on that role.
"We do what's right for the team on the day," he added. "He can't wait to goal-kick and if he's the right guy to kick on the day, then he'll happily do it. I think the coaches think he can already; he goal-kicked perfectly against Glasgow, in trying conditions."