By Simon Lewis in Brisbane
He may not be due to arrive in Munster until pre-season later this summer, but new signing Joey Carbery is already getting used to his new province, with Conor Murray revealing the fly-half’s future club-mates have nicknamed him “ROG”.
Scrum-half Murray is relishing the opportunity to forge a half-back partnership with the 22-year-old Carbery, who revealed last week that he had decided to leave Leinster in order to get more game time at number 10.
The New Zealand-born, Kildare-raised out-half is in the mix to win his 11th Ireland cap this Saturday, when the Six Nations champions face Australia in the first Test in Brisbane.
Carbery is likely to continue as cover off the bench for Johnny Sexton, a role he has played with distinction since a memorable debut in Chicago a day after his 21st birthday when Ireland scored its first victory over the All Blacks on November 2, 2016.
Now a Grand Slam winner, having finished four of the five victories during this season’s championship, a potential Murray-Carbery partnership has had Munster supporters licking their lips in anticipation and, though the scrum-half has warned the fly-half of the competition he faces for the red number 10 jersey once worn by Ronan O’Gara, he believes the new version will be a major addition to Johann van Graan’s squad.
"Yeah, [it’s exciting], definitely,” Murray said yesterday, as Ireland trained at their Gold Coast resort hotel. “There’s a bit of slagging at the moment, calling him ROG!
“It’s great, it makes sense, for Joey especially. He’s looking to get more game-time. He’s going to have to come down to Munster and compete for a place, because there are lads who are hungry to have the No 10 jersey, too, because you’ve quite a few No 10s there now.
“Joey will boost our squad massively, he’s a class player. He’s 22, he’s learned so much and has a lot of experience.
“You can even see what he’s learnt off Johnny [Sexton]. He steps in when Johnny steps out for reps and he’s well able to take hold of the team and control what’s going on. It’s very exciting.”
Murray, 29, has had plenty of training time with Carbery, but he believes their on-field rapport will only improve the more they play together.
“Game-time is when your partnership starts to grow properly, but hanging around with him and getting to know him over the last few years has been brilliant and that’ll definitely help when he comes down to Munster and start to build something there. Like I said, he’s a top-quality player and it’s really exciting for Munster and Ireland.”
When Carbery made his decision public via the media last week it was clear that leaving Leinster would be a severe wrench for a player who grew up wearing blue, but Murray said there would be a warm welcome for one of Munster’s arch enemies, just as the hand of friendship had been extended to other players who have made the same switch in recent years, including Felix Jones, now Munster attack coach, and Andrew Conway, also on tour in Australia with Ireland.
“This is just going to add another element to us. I’m sure the lads will tell him how to settle into Limerick life.”
Should Murray, as expected, start against the Wallabies on Saturday, he will be earning his 65th Ireland Test cap and also playing for the first time since Munster’s exit from the Guinness PRO14 play-offs at the hands of Leinster in a narrow semi-final defeat to the Champions Cup winners at the RDS on May 20.
It was the second semi-final defeat in four weeks — following the European last-four defeat to Racing 92 in Bordeaux — but Murray admitted that losing to the Parisians was a much tougher pill to swallow and the Leinster loss was easier to close the book on.
“Yeah, straight away. It’s been a great season, obviously, with Munster, if disappointing towards the end of it. The Racing game definitely hurt me more than the Leinster semi-final, because against Racing we didn’t play and gave them a lead and blew it a little bit.
“You don’t do that in semi-finals and then the Leinster one... after the game it’s a tough thing to take, but I was realistic about it. Leinster are the best team at the moment. They deserve the success they’ve had this year. Being a Munster man, that can be tough, but you’ve mates on that team too and you see them doing well. It is what it is.
“That day against Leinster, we played well. We played one of our best games of the year and Leinster made a few changes, but we just came up short. It’s easier to take a defeat like that when you play well and they just played better, whereas the Racing game we gave them a lead, didn’t play well and played catch up.
“You don’t want to do that, you want to give yourself the best chance. I think we’re realistic, we’re getting there with Munster definitely. It is frustrating at times, but at least we fired a shot in that semi-final. We threw a few punches and we just came up short. They were very, very good on the day too and that just makes it easier to accept down the line, when you reflect.”
This story first appeared in the Irish Examiner.