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Unlucky run of injuries doesn't mean Joey Carbery is too 'brittle' for international rugby

Latest spell out should not place any doubts over Munster man's ability to be an international out-half

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Joey Carbery. Photo: Sportsfile

Joey Carbery. Photo: Sportsfile

Joey Carbery. Photo: Sportsfile

Joey Carbery hasn't had much luck lately, so last weekend when he crumpled to a heap after getting his ankle caught awkwardly while making a tackle, his and everyone else's natural inclination was to automatically fear the worst.

The sight of the motorised stretcher being called for and the look of utter devastation on Carbery's face heightened those worries because, after all, he has already had ankle problems in the past.

That Carbery put himself into the position to make the crucial hit so close to the line is the mark of a man, who despite already enduring more than his fair share of setbacks, is still willing to put his body on the line for the good of the team.

Given how much time that he has spent learning from Johnny Sexton, that should not come as much of a surprise. But it does continue to beg the question: should out-halves protect themselves more?

In the modern game in which the pace and physicality is relentless, that is easier said than done, yet there is a feeling that a better balance can be struck.

Jonny Wilkinson is widely regarded as the one who changed out-half play and what is expected of them defensively.

Sexton certainly relishes the physical exchanges, while so too does Owen Farrell. Taking the ball flat to the line and putting yourself in the firing line has now almost become a prerequisite, but that doesn't work for every 10.

Carbery, however, is at his most lethal when he is running at defences with his searing pace and electric footwork.

Opposition teams will target every out-half regardless of their shape or size, so it is unfair to suggest that the 23-year-old is any different.

The reality of this latest ankle injury is that it could have happened to any player on the pitch. Given that it is not the same ankle he previously damaged with Leinster should also ease concerns that he is too 'brittle' for the international stage.

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As Joe Schmidt rightly put it after the win over Italy: "Joey has not had the best of luck and sometimes you can have that run. Tadhg Furlong had that run for a couple of years where he didn't play a lot and then he got into a rhythm and he's fine."

Luck does play a role in these kind of soft tissue injuries. The Ireland squad have done a huge amount of strength and conditioning work over the last seven weeks, but nothing was going to save Carbery's ankle once it got trapped like that.

"Anyone could have been injured in that incident last week," former Leinster and Connacht out-half Andy Dunne, who now works as a physiotherapist, agrees.

"I would rather see him escorting people into that maul, which would allow him stay in position and out of harm's way.

"I don't think it has anything to do with a physical brittleness. It's about adopting a mentality of self-preservation - not because he is afraid or cowardly, but because he needs to be fit and sharp enough to run the team.

"That's his most important job, so there needs to be a bit of leeway from the coaches and a forgiveness to say, 'You can afford to avoid contact when possible.'

"My own experience as a young out-half was that I got a load of injuries. I was trying to prove I was at the level as opposed to being comfortable in my own skin.

"I have no concerns, none whatsoever, about Joey's capacity to manage himself physically."

The Munster out-half missed 14 weeks of last season with a hamstring issue, which, again, any player is susceptible to.

In hindsight, it might have been managed better because as soon as he returned following seven weeks out, he faced the same amount of time out after suffering a recurrence of the same injury.

Yet, that is reflective of the hunger within Carbery and in a World Cup year, he is desperate to play and impress.

"From a medical point of view, he hasn't had any injuries that will have a significant impact on his long-term career," Dunne says, with his physio hat on.

"They are all smaller, soft tissue injuries with the one arm break. He hasn't had any serious knee ligament injuries or anything, which are going to hinder him.

"Everything he has had, he will make a 100 per cent recovery from given his age.

"If he had ruptured a cruciate and was out for 12 months, you're talking about the possibility of getting arthritis at a later age and slowing up younger than he should.

"But there is no clear indication for medial advice to change his game. There are tactical reasons, but no medical reasoning."

In an ideal world, Sexton will start Ireland's opening two pool games against Scotland and Japan with Carbery in line to take over the reins for the clashes with Samoa and Russia later on.

Playing against two beefy sides could throw up issues for Carbery, who will be mindful that the last time he played Fiji (another massive outfit), he broke his arm.

But it is all about playing smartly and choosing your moments as to when and when not to put yourself in the line of fire. And that will only come with experience.

To date, Carbery has started just six of his 19 caps, but that should not detract from the body of work that he has built up so far.

Even if he won't add to that tally until Ireland arrive in Japan, Carbery remains central to Schmidt's masterplan and for good reason.


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