Leo Cullen wary of old Blue Joey Carbery having last laugh

Today’s meeting of Leinster and Munster at the RDS will, inevitably, be used as another opportunity to measure exactly how far Joey Carbery has come since he moved the 200km down the road from Dublin to Limerick.

The Athy man’s switch has already been declared a success, in spite of his spending so much time on the treatment table. The most obvious evidence of this is the new contract he signed in March that takes him through to 2022.

“I love it down here,” he declared earlier this week.

There was a chuckle from Leo Cullen when asked what sort of welcome their former favourite would receive. “From the players or the fans?” he joked. But Cullen will be all too aware of the potential for Carbery to have the last laugh.

Munster’s muted offensive game has been a source of constant consternation since their meek Champions Cup semi-final exit to Saracens, and moreso since the news that Felix Jones was giving up his role as backs coach.

Though unquestionably an issue, it is one that was placed in a slightly more considered context by Leinster’s struggles in the same department when losing out to the English side in last week’s European decider.

Carbery’s presence is in itself reason for optimism going forward.

It is almost a year to the day since he last appeared at the RDS and he wore a blue jersey that day against Munster and with the number 15 on his back. A week later and he snaffled just 16 minutes off the bench in the PRO14 final against Scarlets.

Four days later and he was ringing Leo Cullen to tell him that he was grabbing the chance to build a career for himself as an out-half with their greatest rivals so the Leinster head coach knows just what to expect from his former charge here.

He’s still a very dangerous broken-field runner. You see, particularly when he’s in the back field and the ball is kicked down to him, he’s an unbelievably dangerous counter-attacker.

“His kicking has been very good so, from our point of view, our discipline is going to be hugely important because his kicking accuracy has been really good this year. He seems to have settled in down there, he seems to be happy.

“As we know, he’s hugely talented.”

All in all, Cullen was suitably diplomatic when speaking about Carbery’s move yesterday. “That’s part of sport,” he said at one point but you wouldn’t have to take much literary licence to imagine him spitting nails this time last year.

Reference was made to the ‘investment’ Leinster had made in nurturing Carbery through the ranks, but the reigning league champions know that emotion must be stripped away today.

The last time these two sides met was in Thomond Park at the back end of December when Jonathan Sexton lost the head, James Lowe saw red, Cian Healy and Tadhg Furlong earned yellows and Leinster lost the match.

There’s an epidemic of ‘learnings’ in rugby and modern sport in general right now - and Leinster are no slouches in that regard - but that Christmas cock-up has clearly informed the home side as they front up against the red horde again.

“There was lots of chaos,” said Cullen. “We just need to make sure we’re nice and controlled, disciplined in the game and we’re thinking clearly. That was one game. It hasn’t been a feature for us. Munster are, maybe, a team that get involved.

You see a lot of games where they are involved in that types of fracas. We just need to make sure we understand what that’s going to be like.

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