Tony Ward: Joey Carbery should look to Munster if he wants to kick on at out-half
Last weekend's mixed sequence of results raised plenty of questions for Irish rugby but Leinster's comprehensive win over Scarlets raised the most pertinent question of all: Can they go all the way? Can Leo Cullen's men lift the title against cash-rich, high-quality Racing in a fortnight's time? I believe they can and will.
These are great days for the eastern province and Leinster rugby is in rude good health simply because it is a well-oiled machine from the top down and the bottom up.
However, central to Leinster's current efficiency at the highest level is underage rugby and specifically the schools. The Academy is of course an equally vital cog but without the incredible depth and quality of the former, the latter would struggle to keep the assembly line rolling at the level of excellence it is delivering right now.
There is never room for complacency but the talent currently coming through the schools system is at least on a par with those wearing the senior jersey at present. And they have in Peter Smyth and Trevor Hogan two former players at the helm who know and understand the nuances inside out.
For many reasons there will always be a fall-off between aspiration and fulfilment of that first professional contractual dream. Indeed, to even make it into the Leinster Academy at this point in time is an achievement in itself.
Against that is a club game neglected to the point of despair. Despite the annual rhetoric, the IRFU is treading on thin ice.
But with the B&I nonsense finally being put out of its misery the time is right to treat the Ulster Bank League with the respect it deserves and see it return to being the forum for player development that all four provinces - Leinster included - need as the definitive stepping stone to Pro14 and Champions/Challenge Cup. Beyond that is bonus territory.
But back to last weekend and the chasm that exists between Leinster and the rest. Munster still remain second in the provincial pecking order but for the southern province, and I would hope Ulster and Connacht too, second is nowhere.
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And even if the latter two provinces manage to get one over on the former two this final derby weekend, its context is zero in terms of challenging for silverware at this point in time.
I do not share the current disillusionment felt by some out west or up north but while change in management is essential and top of the agenda at Kingspan, there is a pressing need for the continued redistribution of essential playing resources regardless.
Here the role of David Nucifora is paramount and despite criticism in some quarters, he's making a fair go of a difficult task.
The most obvious positional dilemma for Ireland, and indeed for all four provinces, is out-half.
For Joe Schmidt, it is about getting game-time for his shadow number ten - whoever that be. I suspect it is Joey Carbery yet when pressed to give an opinion as to whether out-half or full-back is the Athy man's most effective position, I struggle. How could it be otherwise when he seldom wears ten for province or country?
My philosophy upon hanging up the boots was always to get my best players onto the field, irrespective of position, and develop a playing strategy accordingly. Players dictate tactics and not vice versa.
The dilemma for Leinster is an abundance of talent, particularly at out-half. Ross Byrne has been exceptional in his execution of much the same role as Johnny Sexton in the latter's absence, while Ciarán Frawley and Harry Byrne (younger brother to Ross) are both bubbling under with Cathal Marsh (yet another from the St Michael's conveyor belt) being shown the door.
In addition, with current internationals Rob Kearney and Jordan Larmour competing for full-back what chance for Carbery there? Carbery is much too talented to be on the sideline as indeed is Larmour although Larmour's ability to play 11, 13 or 14 alleviates the obvious dilemma for Cullen when picking his run-on XV.
Decision time is fast approaching however. To move elsewhere in search of game-time, and by extension career fulfilment, is an essential not an option. Munster along with Ulster and Connacht also need to reassess as to where exactly they want to go through their out-half options.
As of now, and here I feel western supporters have been tough on Jack Carty, both he and Johnny McPhillips (making his way at Ulster) have the essential ingredients if given the time and encouragement. Both provinces might be down but there is a light. But they need reinforcements and if that is to be Carbery or Byrne then so be it but two crucial points must also be made.
Foremost is that neither Leinster player can or will be forced to leave Belfield. That must be their decision and their decision alone. As to Carbery's likely point of destination, I have no bias whatsoever. Again that is his to assess. However, I think it somewhat ironic that the club (ouch) with the heaviest resources in theory (Munster) is the one with the biggest out-half issue going forward.
Johann van Graan and Felix Jones have called it right thus far when opting for Ian Keatley ahead of Tyler Bleyendaal and JJ Hanrahan when all are fit and firing but the time is nigh for Munster management to re-assess.
Lest I am accused of bias given my association with the southern province, let me re emphasise that the key to solving this conundrum for Carbery is Carbery himself.
But were I in his shoes my future port of call would lie south and I would urge one of my former schoolboy protégés David McHugh (a good out-half too in his time at St Andrew's and now Carbery's agent) to leave no stone unturned in the quest for the right destination for his precocious client.
I don't think it stretching it to suggest that Ireland's call for Japan could be hugely influenced by the right call now. Over to you, Dave and Joey.