Finn Russell had read Joey Carbery’s intention as clearly as if it were laid bare on the giant screen above them at Murrayfield. The Scotland fly-half took full advantage of the situation to intercept the replacement’s pass and make the break, offloading from the deck after Keith Earl’s last-ditch tackle to hand Sam Johnson his 28th-minute try, a score that cut the visitors’ lead to two points.
Russell, though, was to see plenty more from his opposite number’s 55-minute involvement as cover for the injured Johnny Sexton to suggest the 23-year-old Irish playmaker will not be making that early mistake too often again.
“I saw him the whole way and I was looking for the opportunity,” Russell said following his side’s 22-13 home defeat. “I got lucky and he threw the pass. That’s something he’ll learn from. If he gets in that situation again he might not throw that pass.”
Carbery is learning fast and the Munster fly-half grew into the contest with composure, eventually creating the break in midfield that carved Scotland open and provided the long pass at top speed out wide for Earls to score Ireland’s pivotal third try on 55 minutes.
“As a 10 you’re not going to get everything right whether it is kicking, passing or running,” Russell added. “The way he plays is an exciting game. He is always looking to run the ball and have a go. When you’re playing an attacking game you are going to make mistakes. Everyone does it. It’s just how you learn from it and get back. He’s having a great season at Munster and starting 10 there will help him a lot.”
It was quite the turnaround from the moment he threw that costly intercept but the former Leinster man knows he will benefit from the experience, just as he has from extended time for Munster in the fly-half role.
“For me, to be able to play week in and week out at 10 in big games, like in the Champions Cup and in the PRO14, it’s crucial for me and I’m loving every minute of it,” Carbery said.
“Not everything is going well, but I suppose all you can do is learn from it. Yeah, it’s giving me huge confidence to bring it to this level, knowing that I’ve put that behind me.
“I did a few good things, a few bad things and I suppose I’ll take that and move on. You just have to focus on the next moment, what’s the next thing I can do to make a positive impact.
“It’s obviously not great to throw the intercept, but a great chase by Earlsy in behind. We came back together as a team, we got to half-time after that huge defensive effort before half-time.”
For head coach Joe Schmidt, as disruptive as the loss of Sexton to a failed Head Injury Assessment had been, it was a unexpected opportunity to expose Carbery to more tier-one opposition.
“Anytime we get that opportunity for time for guys like Joey he’s got to profit from it. You know, he is growing into a player who can boss the team and his confidence is such that, I think it took a little bit of a rock today when he threw the intercept pass because, inevitably, suddenly it was 12-3 and a bit of breathing space and looking to play becomes 12-10 and not a lot of space or time to play in. Then there was a big defensive set just before half-time and he played his part in that really well.”
The Munster 10 also impressed Schmidt with his composure.
“More and more as the game went on I thought, he was a bit ruffled, especially after that intercept. You know what? That is good growth. That is good opportunity to say ‘I am under pressure here now, the team is under pressure, I’ve got to stay in the game and I’ve still got to make good decisions and I’ve still to boss the team well’.”
For Carbery, watched by Munster head coach Johann van Graan, who had been shadowing the Ireland squad this weekend, it was a more than welcome experience.
“It was great to get out. It’s not great seeing Johnny go down, but on a personal level it was great to get out there and get the experience. It was a pretty tough battle, all we can do is move on now and take the learnings. Keep improving.”