Joe Schmidt has backed Joey Carbery to make the most of his move to Munster but the Ireland boss has warned the departing Leinster fly-half he will have plenty of competition for the red number 10 jersey.
Schmidt was reacting on Thursday to the 22-year-old’s decision to leave Leinster in search of first-team rugby at fly-half.
There had been weeks of speculation that the Irish management and IRFU performance manager David Nucifora had wanted Carbery to move to Ulster to reach their objective of having their first-choice back-up to Johnny Sexton playing regularly for a Champions Cup side ahead of next year’s World Cup campaign in Japan.
Schmidt denied he had played a role in the player’s decision to leave his home province beyond asking him to consider a move to Ulster at the outset, while the meeting in a Dublin café at the end of April in which the pair had been photographed had instigated by Carbery.
"It's a decision Joey's taken a bit of time over," Schmidt said after Ireland trained at Carton House on Thursday. "I understand why Leinster were desperately keen to hang onto him.
"The initial conversation with Leo (Cullen, Leinster head coach) and myself and David Nucifora (about Carbery leaving the province) was not the best timing for any of us. It certainly wasn't where I wanted to be at the time but I had a job to do," the head coach added of the intervention during Leinster’s Champions Cup campaign.
"All we asked was if there was any interest for Ross (Byrne) or Joey to go up to Ulster. Ulster at the time were looking for a foreign option. They needed to know before midday the following day and so we had to see if there was any chance at all if any of our local number 10s were interested.
“If there was no interest then it was probably a different story. There was a bit of interest from Joey at the time. He mulled that over and I think he got an approach from Munster in the interim and it digressed then into a different conversation."
Joey Carbery is set to join Munster Rugby ahead of the 2018/19 season.May 31, 2018
Schmidt said Carbery could use his Munster move, with personal terms still to be decided, to solidify his position as an Ireland fly-half.
“He has been superbly coached at Leinster and has had really great role models. I think in anyone's pathway in development I think if you are not playing the position it is very hard to progress in that position. I've no doubt that with that base he can springboard into a more senior position
“I honestly wasn't sure what he was going to do. I thought quite possibly he was going to stay put. I haven't had that much time to think about it. I've had a quite a few other things on my plate.”
As to whether Carbery would grasp the chance under Johann van Graan at Munster, Schmidt added:
“To be honest the proof is in the pudding. A good opportunity? I think it is a good opportunity for him to get in at 10 but he is going to get competition from Tyler (Bleyendaal), Ian (Keatley), JJ (Hanrahan). Bill Johnston is a good young player so there is going to be competition for him.
“That's not necessarily a bad thing either. But it may turn out to be a good move if he can make the most of it. That's always going to be the question.
“If anyone moves would it have been a good move to stay? It could have been .. If he'd been able to progress and play more at 10 it could have been. With any young player... with any player full stop once you have made a decision it's a good move because that's what you've got to make it. It really is up to Joey now to make it a good move.”