Sunday 22 April 2018

Tony Ward: Joey Carbery needs to be playing at No 10, or leave Leinster

Joey Carbery is blessed with a natural footballing intellect. Photo: Sportsfile
Joey Carbery is blessed with a natural footballing intellect. Photo: Sportsfile
Tony Ward

Tony Ward

Back in 1982 I rejoined St Mary's College RFC from Garryowen. Current Ireland team manager Paul Dean was out-half for the Templeville club, although playing in the centre for Ireland at the time.

The late Cathal Sweeney was captain with brother JB manager and Eamonn Mullan the coach.

Following discussions over the summer it was agreed - chiefly by 'Deano' and yours truly - that my move would facilitate Paul's switch to centre on a regular basis.

There's no doubt that given my penchant for meandering the discipline attached to preserving space for those further outside benefited him enormously as a centre and an outside-half going forward.

Put simply, 'Deano' ran the straightest of lines and was gifted with the most perfect pair of passing hands.

My tendency to drift in search of space was compensated by his reading and distribution.

To borrow from modern parlance, it made for two pretty decent first-receivers at 10 and 12.

I continued to play at out-half with Munster and Paul in the centre alongside Ollie Campbell for Leinster and Ireland.

All in all it worked up until 1985 when Mick Doyle spotted in Deano the type of link he wanted at out-half to launch what turned out to be the give-it-a-lash, Triple Crown-winning tactical plan. I was superfluous.

Strange as it may seem, having got to know my fellow club centre as well as I did, I had no issue with being overlooked by 'Doyler'.

As head coach that was his prerogative and unlike in Australia three years before, I fully grasped the rationale.

Disappointed? Of course, who wouldn't be? But for me, at that stage in my career, it was all about enjoyment and that meant playing out-half.

Although club captain Terry Kennedy and coach Tony Hickie tried to persuade me to stay and switch to full-back, all I wanted to do was continue in the pivotal position I had played since U-9.

It was a dilemma that resulted in me transferring to Greystones and to some of the most enjoyable times of my rugby-playing career.

Here again, Greystones' then out-half Jerome O'Brien was obliging when moving to centre and in my last five years I enjoyed every minute of my time at Dr Hickey Park.

Indeed it is somewhat ironic that I played out my last two seasons of representative rugby for Leinster with 'Deano' at out-half and me alongside Brennie Mullin in the centre.

That said I did have my out-half moments, not least for Leinster against Canada at Lansdowne Road in a Greystones-dominated backline that included Johnny Murphy at full-back, Hubie Gallagher on the wing, Paul McNaughton at centre and myself and Tony Doyle in the halves.

It was some achievement for one of the lesser lights but indicative of the talent and the type of rugby we played under Ken Ging, Willo Murray and Terry Diaper.

That was in 1986 and later that year I managed to win my way back into the national side wearing 10 against the Scots in Lansdowne Road.

It had gone full circle from my first international against the same opposition in the same venue some eight years before in '78, although I did manage a couple more at the inaugural Rugby World Cup in '87 when 'Deano' and I shared the out-half position throughout that tournament.

My final bow came on the Jimmy Davidson-led tour to France in '88.

All of that is a long-winded way of saying that while caps and cups are important, the key ingredient to any sporting career is enjoyment.

I reminisce now, specifically with the case of Joey Carbery in mind, but against a backdrop of what I would like to believe is enlightened thinking for Irish rugby going forward.

I am a huge fan of the shadow out-half named in the 23 for duty this afternoon but I do have concerns.

For all the talk and doubt surrounding the fitness of Garry Ringrose, Tadhg Furlong and Iain Henderson, the spotlight has remained virtually Carbery-free.

Regular readers will know how important having impact off the bench is in the modern game and to that end I would have liked to have seen Jordan Larmour also included in today's match-day squad.

If Rob Kearney were to ship an injury early then what happens in a reshuffle?

The same comment applies at out-half were Johnny Sexton - guaranteed to be the focus of Welsh attention along with Conor Murray - to ship an early knock.

The common denominator is of course the sumptuously-talented Carbery, but I haven't a clue whether his Test position will be out-half or full-back. And with all due respect to the maestro himself, I doubt Joe Schmidt is sure either.

My own playing conundrum arose in the amateur days, but ultimately I come back to the same fundamental points surrounding enjoyment and playing regularly in a favoured position, whatever that is.

Even switching wings in today's robotically-planned game is a massive manoeuvre.

What Andrew Porter has achieved in switching sides of the scrum is truly remarkable but there is a difference in that he has been preparing for that move through John Fogarty and Greg Feek at Leinster and Ireland respectively.

Front-row being far from my area of expertise, I haven't spoken to Andrew about it but I can only assume by his demeanour and rate of progress that he is enjoying the switch.

The nature of the game now guarantees all six front-row forwards in the match-day squad a quarter or more of the match time on offer.

Behind the scrum it's a different matter with substitutions based on injury or tactical adjustment - generally when chasing the game.

And therein lies the concern with Carbery. That he is blessed with a natural footballing intellect is clear. Coming on in the final straight for his debut at Soldier Field was a big ask but even it would pale into relative insignificance were he called into action should anything untoward happen to Johnny Sexton early.

Coming in at full-back would make for an easier proposition and more to the point he had been playing there in Kearney's absence with Leinster through injury.

We'll not labour the point but with both Kearney brothers, Larmour and a host of others, including Isa Nacewa, covering the last line in defence, allied to Sexton and the Byrne brothers at out-half, there is a clear and obvious problem.

I made the move NOT to win back my international slot at out-half but to ensure I continued learning and enjoying the game. As it transpired, one fed into the other.

At this point in time all three provinces outside of Leinster have issues at No 10.

In Munster it's still Ian Keatley, Tyler Bleyendaal and JJ Hanrahan, and in that order by my way of thinking, but I doubt Johann van Graan or Felix Jones are any wiser as to the right call at the moment.

So too in Connacht through Jack Carty, Craig Ronaldson, Steve Crosbie, Andrew Deegan and Conor McKeon, where AJ MacGinty has still to be adequately replaced.

Up North the out-half void needs little elaboration save for the hope that with patience and perseverance Johnny McPhillips has shown prior to injury that he could come good.

Yet here we are in all of that and our shadow out-half today cannot get sufficient game time for his province.

The fix, if not the alternative destination, is obvious.

The sooner player and governing body sit down and let common sense prevail the better.

In the meantime would I bet against this precocious talent doing a Chicago repeat? Not on your nelly!

Irish Independent

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