Wednesday 16 October 2019

Tony Ward: Joey Carbery is already a Tony Ward, the challenge is to see if he can become an Ollie Campbell


'Carbery has that streak of unpredictability that can waver between magic and madness in an instant.' Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
'Carbery has that streak of unpredictability that can waver between magic and madness in an instant.' Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Tony Ward

Tony Ward

Quite whether rugby going open has been good for the game on this island overall is another argument for another day. What cannot be denied is the progress made in preparing and competing consistently at the highest level.

It is no longer fair to say we punch above our weight because the manner in which the IRFU have gone about their business at the top of the game has insured we have not alone the belief but the capability of beating any opposition on any given day.

It is not the game it once was - the eligibility rules continue to be an absolute farce, for example - but they are what they are and Joe Schmidt picks his players accordingly.

And with due respect to Steve Hansen, we have the most complete practical and technical coach in the world. He may not always get it right but it's seldom he gets it badly wrong.

When it comes to playing the percentages, there is no one better.

Most critically of all, he is a good listener and on the back of information gathered and eligibility rules applied, he puts in place a system that makes Ireland arguably the least-favoured opposition in the world at this point in time.

It is a long way from the 60-minute storm followed by the 20-minute surrender for which the fighting Irish were universally renowned.

Now we are a clever side fuelled by a clever coach and his carefully-assembled backroom staff.

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While our strength in depth has undoubtedly improved we are still in halfpenny league compared to the English, Kiwis and South Africans.

The French, through their mad-hatter owner system, are now what we once were but we still have a bit of catching up to do, particularly beyond the scrum.

While the Grand Slam champions are now a different force we must never lose sight of the fact that the game in Ireland is still at best number four in the pecking order. And to that end we must never deviate from the here and now.

The day we start planning two games ahead, oblivious to what lies in between, will be the beginning of the end to what has proved the most glorious chapter in our rugby-playing history.

Schmidt has the good sense to appreciate that and while clearly looking for the opportunity to give up-and-coming players their chance, he knows that defeats, irrespective of experimentation, to Italy in Chicago or the US in the Aviva, at either end of November, could spell disaster for overall morale.

Nothing fuels winning like winning. It breeds confidence and self-belief in every sporting endeavour.

The suggestion that we might sacrifice the next Six Nations for some warped notion of longer-term interest is ludicrous.

I would go further and stress the importance of a successful November Series.

There will be room for manoeuvre, particularly against the Italians or the Eagles, and to a lesser extent the Pumas at the Aviva.

The head coach is no one's fool. He gets that vital aspiration, whether in charge at Leinster, Clermont Auvergne, Bay Of Plenty or even Wilson's Hospital School.

The aim after 2015, when undoubtedly we blew (albeit through a litany of injuries) our best opportunity yet to make a World Cup impact, was to have three players competing for every position.

We are a bit away from that - particularly at halfback where Conor Murray and Johnny Sexton run the show at a different level to those making up the chase.

November offers an ideal opportunity (given Murray's injury) for the chasing scrum-halves - chiefly Kieran Marmion, Luke McGrath, John Cooney and possibly Caolin Blade - to make their mark.

At out-half, Joey Carbery continues as the heir apparent for me. He is still some way off Sexton at his best in terms of game management but that is why he is where he is at this point in a developing career.

Bear in mind he is only 22, going on 23 in November. Perhaps, if I might be forgiven for saying it, I see an element of myself in today's pretender.

Carbery has that streak of unpredictability that can waver between magic and madness in an instant.

The challenge in today's highly-robotic game is blending spontaneity with that word I have really come to hate (and trotted out ad nauseum in all sporting codes) - the 'process'. Give me strength.

And here, we the media have an important part to play.

In the aftermath of last weekend's highly satisfying performance, albeit against a disappointingly understrength Ospreys, I saw the term 'out-half masterclass' and subtle variations on that theme trotted out in relation to Carbery's input.

It was not a masterclass and Joey knows that better than any. No journalistic hyperbole can mislead a player.

He alone knows how he did in relation to the goals and objectives he will have set for himself in advance.

Two poor cross-field kicks (left to right) when the contest was more finely balanced is not what Munster need going forward.

His brilliant opportunist try was typical Carbery - period.

You cannot put a value on that type of free-running quality in broken play. It's the same now as ever it was.

Of more relevance was his goal-kicking consistency off the tee.

What he has to learn if he is to become another Sexton (and I'm a believer fixed firmly in his corner), is how to manage games like ROG used to.

Ronan was the master craftsman, developed through his years learning that out-half trade initially at Cork Con, and subsequently with and for the province.

When it came to doing the simple things well and specifically nursing his forward unit though a clinical percentage game when it was needed most, O'Gara was king.

Carbery is already a slick distributor but it is his kicking out of hand that needs to be further developed and fine-tuned through experience in the games of real intensity when wearing that red No 10.

The more games he gets in the pivotal position, the better he will be.

I fundamentally disagree with colleague Cian Tracey when he suggests that Carbery's inclusion off the bench in the early games has been ahead of plan.

Starting at No 10 against Ospreys and Cardiff is at least a step in the right direction.

He is already a Tony Ward, the challenge is to see if he can become an Ollie Campbell.

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