Sunday 18 November 2018

Neil Francis: Watching Joey Carbery, it's no wonder Ian Madigan went to France

Out-half's running skills light up RDS but Castres' passivity makes it hard to judge pack's display

Joey Carbery and (right) Ian Madigan
Joey Carbery and (right) Ian Madigan
Joey Carbery is tackled by Castres's Antoine Dupont. Picture: PA
Neil Francis

Neil Francis

Okay, sometimes turkeys duck. Castres are one of the great enigmas in Europe. That team that took the park in the RDS yesterday could play football and even though they should be well out of it by the time the sixth match in this pool comes around, if the mood takes them they will be difficult to subdue in January.

This was a Ronseal performance from Leinster. The vagaries of perception probably give rise to the notion that Leinster overcame Castres at tight and a dominant performance at maul time, yet this alleged dominance was done with the permission of Castres, who didn't bother their arse to defend the maul and only applied minimal pressure at scrum time - something French sides only do when they play away from home.

Yes, Leinster were reassuringly proficient at tight in that they got the perfect performance in that area, winning all their lineout ball and all of their scrum ball with ease, but you also can do that in an unopposed training run. So we will hold off on the merits and demerits of Leinster's tight performance and wait and see how they go against a Montpellier side that will be a far different proposition next Sunday on French soil.

Sean Cronin got in on the back of what looked at first sight to be an impressive Leinster maul. Two tries from this sector in the first 25 minutes and you thought the scope here for a Wasps versus Zebre-type scoreline [82-14] was certain, but as usual Leinster took their foot off the pedal and gave points back when Luke McGrath was sin-binned for coming in from the side of a maul.

It was reasonably harsh because the maul had effectively broken away from the main body and McGrath was entitled to make a tackle as Castres players went over the line - certainly a yellow card was harsh.

Castres, far from moping back into the dressing-room and wondering what time their flight was, had a far more interesting half-time talk. It was not to be and Leinster sealed off on any expectation Castres had of turning this into a game directly after the restart.

Sean Cronin of Leinster goes over to score his side's first try, alongside team-mates Luke McGrath (left) and Ian Nagle Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Sean Cronin of Leinster goes over to score his side's first try, alongside team-mates Luke McGrath (left) and Ian Nagle Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

I have watched Isa Nacewa play for over a decade now; his reputation and his legacy at this stage are assured, but he earned an extra laurel wreath for his cameo at scrum-half yesterday. If Leinster are ever short again in that position during the season they could do worse than to throw him in for the full 80 for sport and see what sort of damage he could do. Already this season he has shown undeviating steadiness of purpose.

He mightn't be as quick as he used to be but mentally he is light years ahead of most players he takes the field with. His try for the bonus point in the 47th minute illustrated what a nimble mind he has. The great players can see a gap without their eyes looking at it and giving away their intention. He picked and went, stepped and gave a wondrous hand-off as he got over the line. A bit like Beauden Barrett, whose place-kicking was a little bit awry in New Zealand's dismantling of South Africa last week.

Who cares if you are missing kicks when you are doing such damage in the open field? Nacewa missed his early kicks but it didn't really matter and eventually he got into the groove as the match wore on.

Today we will watch Ian Madigan and Paddy Jackson try to outdo each other in Bordeaux. Jackson acquitted himself brilliantly in South Africa during the summer and is a quality player, but if he checks his rear view mirror he will know that this kid Joey Carbery is already a better player than him. He has full-back's pace and a wondrous ability to ghost out of tackles. He had half a dozen breaks yesterday and ran for 127 metres.

What I needed to see yesterday was how quick he was over 70 metres, and in the 13th minute he picked off a ball in a Castres back movement and had to have three goes before he could control it and in the end had to dive on the ball to prevent himself from knocking it on. The chase would have been worth the admission. I'm sure there was somebody in the Castres back field, and how he would have dealt with that cover would have given us an idea of his quality.

Maybe Madigan knew what was coming behind him and that could have prompted his move to Bordeaux as well. This boy is the gold standard.

Inside him, McGrath has begun to mature. He had a poor season last year but has revitalised his challenge, and his decision making and his ability to read and control a game are heading in the right direction.

He is sparky and competitive and is also a good open-field runner, and despite his yellow card yesterday he could be happy with his overall performance.

Joey Carbery is tackled by Castres's Antoine Dupont. Picture: PA
Joey Carbery is tackled by Castres's Antoine Dupont. Picture: PA

In the season so far Leinster have been reassuringly good over the ball but yesterday you could pin a lot of the blame for their inability to ramp up the scoreboard on the fact that they were slow into the breakdown; Castres, not a side known for their ability on the ground, picked off 14 balls on the floor or out of contact, which is unacceptable. Some of the Castres players in this area were very good yesterday but they are not schooled to play this sort of game and therefore you would point at Leinster's deficiencies.

Leinster didn't get over the Castres line after the 48th minute. That's 32 minutes without placing the ball over an opposition who weren't really bothered. Penalty tries don't count and scrum penalty tries will be very difficult to come across in Montpellier next weekend.

Leinster were a little bit lacking close to the line when they were trying to play their way over or barge their way over, and Castres didn't have to think too hard about where and when the next tackle would be coming; on four occasions close to the line, Leinster eventually either ran out of players or lost their shape offensively.

All that said, the trend is good, Leinster have rediscovered some of their mojo and they must now go and get something next Sunday, which would make exit from this pool an awful lot easier.

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