Monday 21 January 2019

Rúaidhrí O'Connor: 'Joey Carbery can learn from Castres woes and kick on'

Munster No 10 is on the right track but must endure some difficult days along the way

In the red zone: Joey Carbery might have been off with his radar last Saturday, but if he can learn from bad days like this it will ultimately make him a better player for Munster and Ireland. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
In the red zone: Joey Carbery might have been off with his radar last Saturday, but if he can learn from bad days like this it will ultimately make him a better player for Munster and Ireland. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

Rúaidhrí O'Connor

After the defeat, the recriminations aren't long in coming and, while Wayne Barnes came in for plenty of criticism in the wake of Munster's loss to Castres on Saturday, Joey Carbery took his fair share of the blame as well.

Long before he logged on to his phone to find his name lighting up social media, the out-half will have accepted his part in the loss. When your hard currency is goal-kicking, three out of six just won't cut the mustard.

He moved south last summer to get exposure to the front-lines of top-level rugby in his preferred position and knows that when things go wrong it is the No 10 who gets the majority of the blame.

The jersey weighs heavier in Munster because of the man who wore it before him. Ian Keatley had his moments in red, but the burden of replicating the feats of Ronan O'Gara often appeared to be too much. Tyler Bleyendaal has no such baggage, but he can't get a run of games and JJ Hanrahan hasn't had the opportunities.

When Carbery announced his transfer from Leinster he was universally welcomed by the Munster faithful. His stunning try on his first start in Cork earned him a standing ovation and he has proved a hugely popular signing despite coming from the province's arch rivals.

O'Gara had difficult days during the early years of his career, but his response to those setbacks made the body of work he put together for the remainder of his career all the more memorable.

On Saturday, Carbery found himself in the white heat of a European night in the south of France against a nasty outfit roared on by a rabid crowd.

He was playing alongside Conor Murray for the first time in red and the duo were starved of good ball because their forward pack weren't committing enough numbers to the breakdown.

The pitch was heavy, the rain was falling and he came in for some serious treatment when Thomas Combezou rushed out of the line and absolutely emptied him with a ball-and-all hit.

Just for good measure, the centre stood over him and roared in his face.

Carbery wanted to be exposed to the top-line game in his favoured position and on Saturday he got his fill.

Now 23 and with 16 caps already to his name, the Auckland-born out-half has had an accelerated development but he would admit himself that he is not yet the finished article.

He has looked electric at times in the Guinness PRO14, but when he steps up a level the space becomes more limited and that's when the lack of top-end experience comes into play.

Johnny Sexton didn't make his big Heineken Cup breakthrough until he was 24 and endured plenty of tough outings before storming on to the Croke Park pitch and taking control of his own career destiny with a superb performance.

Carbery is a confident character who has stated his desire to be the best in the world and his coaches speak of a work-rate to back up his big ambitions.

His move to Munster took courage. He could have stayed at Leinster where his talents were routinely used as a back-up full-back or a replacement out-half but where Ross Byrne was preferred when Sexton was injured.

Instead, he has moved beyond his comfort zone and on doing so he has added some serious threat to the Munster backline.

Saturday's match wasn't a night for pretty attacking patterns, however.

Castres were filthy and Barnes let them away with it. They turned the breakdown into a war zone and the Irish province refused to abandon their shape and get stuck in.

They created enough opportunities to win the game and, if they had been better in a number of areas they'd have done just that and would have one foot in the quarter-finals already.

The coaches will have a fairly wide-ranging review to work off when their full squad get together after the brief Ireland camp yesterday.

The lineout was well below their standards, the scrum was erratic, the ruck was a mess and the execution in those rare moments when they engineered space was below where it needs to be.

At critical moments, their decision-making let them down and then there were four missed kicks at goal. For all of that, they were one point off. Their issues are fixable and, if they can get it right, they are legitimate contenders for this competition.

They face a difficult Christmas schedule of inter-pros before they travel to Gloucester for a pool-defining shoot-out with all four teams still in contention. Even a win at Kingsholm is unlikely to put the pool to bed with Exeter due in Limerick the following weekend.

Coach Johann van Graan is an upbeat character who tends to keep his cards close to his chest in public, but as he tries to move Munster's game-plan beyond the direct approach that has gotten them to semi-finals and no further in recent seasons, he will encounter some teething problems.

Injuries hit them hard and the absence of Jean Kleyn and Chris Farrell was keenly felt in a physical contest, while James Cronin's scrummaging was a loss. Yet their squad was strengthened last summer by the acquisition of Carbery and Tadhg Beirne, while their PRO14 performances have suggested they've an attack that can do damage when the ground gets firmer.

Margins

Saturday's defeat has narrowed the margins and made it very likely that, if they qualify for the last eight, they'll have to go away from home for their quarter-final.

After they'd lost the semi-final last season, Peter O'Mahony said he was sick of learning lessons but unless they absorb the loss in Castres and make the appropriate amendments the results will keep repeating themselves.

Carbery's mission is to make sure the missed kicks don't become a habit and to ensure Saturday's defeat doesn't come back to haunt his side when the pool is decided in rounds five and six.

Part of the reason he moved to Munster was to become a better out-half and, while he won't be happy about it, he'll be better for the experience.

However, the reality of playing in that famous red No 10 shirt is that while there may be some patience it won't last forever. He's more than good enough to bounce back from the disappointment and so are his team.

Irish Independent

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