Saturday 23 February 2019

Carbery kicks for home but now his fitful Munster side must kick on

Munster 9 Exeter Chiefs 7

Joey Carbery of Munster in action against Joe Simmonds of Exeter Chiefs. Photo: Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile
Joey Carbery of Munster in action against Joe Simmonds of Exeter Chiefs. Photo: Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile
David Kelly

David Kelly

When all around appeared to be losing their heads, he kept his. When all around held their breaths in trepidation, he inhaled one large one in anticipation.

As the descending, drizzly maze engulfed the Ballynanty end like the fog which had clouded his team's minds on Saturday, almost as if the mists of time were encroaching, a man with little experience of these famously historic nights was now burdened with the expectation of ensuring this would be another one.

It had been a fitful display from him and his team, but a ruggedly defiant one at clutch moments, too, with the club's weighty experience hauling them through too many tough times for their own comfort.

However, when the decisive intervention was required, Joey Carbery delivered, nailing a difficult three-pointer that at once secured the win required and avoided the potential of a possibly wounding defeat that might have ended their European hopes.

Instead, Munster secured a record 18th qualification and, while their performance deserves criticism given their recently lofty standards - and those required to return them to the podium of champions in Newcastle this May - this was about delivering when it was necessary.

And Carbery ensured his team would do so.

Beirne supremacy: Tadhg Beirne is congratulated by his Munster team-mates after winning a turnover during the Champions Cup. Photo: Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile
Beirne supremacy: Tadhg Beirne is congratulated by his Munster team-mates after winning a turnover during the Champions Cup. Photo: Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile

"There was a lot on the line today, so I'm absolutely stoked with it," was the Athy native's modest summation.

His third kick of the afternoon was the latest in a sequence of 20 successive conversions from the tee; the difference now, compared to Castres, and that luckless hat-trick of misses, was that he didn't allow the fog of confusion enveloping him and his team to affect his composure.

For all the frenetic and frantic nature of his team's display - under constant pressure admittedly, but often self-imposed - the timely intervention of his and the team's muscle memory proved sufficient, for this day at least.

This was the difference and this is why Carbery came here; to make that difference.

Jonny Hill of Exeter Chiefs gets tangled up with Munster players, from left, Stephen Archer, Billy Holland and Peter O'Mahony. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Jonny Hill of Exeter Chiefs gets tangled up with Munster players, from left, Stephen Archer, Billy Holland and Peter O'Mahony. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

"Yeah, definitely," he agreed after the 73rd-minute penalty which swung the game, an hour after Don Armand's try had given Exeter the lead in a claustrophobic, compelling affair. "It's an extremely special place to come.

"I'm sure it's not that great to be on the opposition team, but for us, when the crowd make themselves heard, it's deafening and I'd say for the opposition it's tough to come here and try and impose themselves.

"It kind of gives us energy then as well. It can swing you games, so the fans are extremely special to us, and we thank them every time. Tonight was an example of how good they were.

"I haven't really worried too much about anticipating what I could expect after moving here. I've looked at it game by game, week by week.

Billy Holland of Munster steals an Exeter lineout from Sam Skinner. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Billy Holland of Munster steals an Exeter lineout from Sam Skinner. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

"But the people who have played No 10 ahead of me in the years gone by, they are extremely good players and it's a big role to fill.

"I suppose it's kind of driving me on to be a better player and make the job easier for the team-mates around me."

To be fair, they sometimes made life difficult for him; even Conor Murray struggled amidst an attacking game-plan which seemed to be condensed into a contest for an unending series of box-kicks.

Late on, his blunder on the short-side led to him being hooked, a reflection of growing impatience in the coaching box at the side's fumbling inaccuracy throughout.

"You can learn," adds Carbery. "But I suppose you can only play who you are playing on the day. Obviously we made a few mistakes and dropped a few balls, but they're a really good team on their side of the ball and not letting us do too much to be honest.

"We came away with the win, so we were pretty happy with it.

"Every day you go out, you go out to try to win, that's the main aim of the game, so we're delighted.

"It makes waking up for the next eight weeks that bit easier, knowing we have a quarter-final to look forward to.

"It's exciting times because the team is getting better every day. We're learning, we're improving and we're taking our learnings from our mistakes.

"We've had a few this year, but I think that's going to make us stronger."

Carbery has grown stronger since his scarring experience in Castres; he was key to their attacking resurgence and, presuming was a jarring blip, will do so once more.

"To come back and kick 20 out of 20, that's incredible," says coach Johann van Graan.

"That's a sign of pure class. His willingness to learn, his willingness to improve is an incredible trait of a very young rugby player.

"There was a lot of expectation when he came to Munster, but the way he's handled himself has been excellent. He is a special man and a special player. I'm proud to be his coach."

They needed Carbery to get this far; they will need him to get further.

"We don't fear anyone. I suppose you've just got to take whoever comes and prepare your best for that. It's out of our hands now, we've done our bit. We'll just wait and see.

"We're away, but the last two away games have obviously been pretty good, with Connacht and Gloucester, but we've just got to do what we do."

Munster - M Haley; A Conway, C Farrell, R Scannell (D Goggin 58), K Earls; J Carbery, C Murray (A Mathewson 65); D Kilcoyne (J Loughman 67), N Scannell (R Marshall 74), J Ryan (S Archer 56), J Kleyn, T Beirne (B Holland 67), P O'Mahony (capt), T O'Donnell (A Botha HT), CJ Stander.

Exeter - J Nowell; S Cordero, H Slade, O Devoto (I Whitten 58), T O'Flaherty; J Simmonds, N White; A Hepburn (B Moon 54), J Yeandle (capt), H Williams (G Holmes 68), D Dennis (M Lees 51), J Hill, S Skinner, D Armand, M Kvesic.

Ref - J Garces (France)

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