Tuesday 22 October 2019

'Mixed 2019 has given us that grit for World Cup'

Joey Carbery: ‘Ankle is good. I’m on target. Doctor’s happy’. Photo: Sportsfile
Joey Carbery: ‘Ankle is good. I’m on target. Doctor’s happy’. Photo: Sportsfile
Brendan Fanning

Brendan Fanning

In the bad old days of Irish rugby we used to laugh about the cliché that patently wasn't true: the one about there never being a good time to be injured. Just before Ireland were due to head to New Zealand, for example, wasn't a bad time to be ringing in sick. Or closer to home, a spin to Parc des Princes in the Five Nations Championship could be avoided with relief.

Different times. So when Joey Carbery says now that he was lucky to be injured in the first game of Ireland's warm-up series, rather than any of the subsequent three, you know what he means.

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Some 50 minutes into the Italy game, in what already seems a long time ago, he was on the golf cart heading for the medical room and wondering if his World Cup was over before it started. By today he expects to be doing all the stuff required of him to be considered in the opener against Scotland next Sunday.

"Yes, should be," he says. "Ankle is good. I'm on target. Doctor's happy, as good as it can be really. I should be close to fully training. I'm not too far away now. It's just making sure they don't overdo it. I'm in a good place and I'm on schedule. It could have been a lot worse."

And as he was being shuttled under the West Stand at Lansdowne Road for an x-ray on site, did he fear the worst?

"A little bit. We were unsure before we saw the scans. I feared the worst a little bit because I just didn't know what it was. It could have been a six-month injury, I just didn't know. I suppose still having the chance and to be progressing the way I am, I'm very fortunate."

Touring the US and Japan with Ireland two summers ago, when the marquee names were off in New Zealand with the Lions, was confirmation that Carbery was very much in Joe Schmidt's plans for the World Cup.

True, a few of that 31-man squad - same size as the World Cup contingent - were outside bets at best, but, along with Paddy Jackson, Carbery was all but nailed on. So long as he was fit. Not being able to complete the Japan leg of that tour must have been a sign that this wouldn't be straightforward.

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For a relative newcomer he's developed quite a tan from the amount of time spent in the glare of publicity.

Injury has taken up a fair chunk of it. Then, of course, there was the tug of love between Leinster and Munster over where he would play and, more importantly, what position. Its apogee was the photo of himself, his dad, and Joe Schmidt, papped in a south Dublin café.

So, did he mention to you at that point that not only would it be good for him to move out of Leinster, where Leo Cullen was playing him virtually only at full-back, but that he might end up covering scrumhalf at the World Cup?

Carbery pauses, smiling.

"No, he didn't," he says. "That was the last thing on my mind."

But having been warned a few months ago it was on the cards he's got his head around it.

"I was comfortable enough - like I say, I'd played nine at under-18s and I think it's something if I got enough practice with it and learn the role nice and early, I could be okay at it. I suppose it adds another string to my bow and helped me get on the plane." So he's been practising specifically for that eventuality, most recently in so far as his ankle rehab allows. He'd happily hop in there tomorrow you'd imagine if the trade-off was that he would get through the 80 minutes in one piece. Uppermost in his mind now is to get through this tournament, doing just that, making a contribution in keeping with his talent.

As a kid the first World Cups that stick in his mind are 2003 and 2007. The first as a devout Kiwi, following his hero Dan Carter; the second as he was settling into this country.

"No, it (2003) wasn't very good but again, I remember watching nearly every game with huge interest. It's hard to know exactly what it's like at the World Cup but from what I hear, it's a different level to Six Nations. There is such a buzz and such an atmosphere, so that's what I'm really, really excited for."

And the ordinary form that took Ireland through the year from losing to England in February to putting Wales away last weekend?

"It hasn't dampened the excitement but I think the excitement has always been there but we probably would have liked to have won more and performed a bit better. But I don't necessarily think it's the worst thing either. If we take our learnings from it and say: 'That's not our standard, that's not where we want to be,' and improve from there. It's good to have that bit of grit about us as well, coming into such a big tournament.

"The vibe is very good, I must say. There's good banter between everyone in training. It's a good environment. I think that's a pretty good thing to have (no kidding) rather than it being negative, which none of us carry around with us. It's a really positive atmosphere. Everyone is really excited about what we can produce in the tournament. It's a really good vibe and it's a great place to be."

Having missed out on Japan in 2017 just arriving in one piece will finally bring it home to him that he's on board. The chances of him featuring against Scotland though have to be slim enough.

His memories of that opposition in the Six Nations are mixed: on the one hand he got picked off by Finn Russell when he made slow ball worse by throwing a pass that wasn't on; the second a searing break and perfect, try-scoring pass for Keith Earls.

"That was pretty special," he says. "I thought I redeemed the intercept pass. It was good. Looking back, you don't think about it, you don't realise what's happening until after. Once I made the break, I knew Earlsy would be there. It worked out pretty well."

If he can recreate anything like that in Japan he will consider 2019 to have been a good year, despite the injuries.

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