Joey Carbery will relish Larkham's Munster link-up

Joey Carbery. Picture: INPHO/ James Crombie

Joey Carbery was only turning 12 when Stephen Larkham brought one of the great Australian careers to an end in 2007. Munster’s new senior coach had already made an impression on the kid from Auckland by then.

A former head coach with the Brumbies, Larkham was dropped controversially from Michael Cheika’s Wallaby coaching ticket at the start of the year, paving the way for his move to Munster where he will assume the role of senior coach under Johann van Graan.

“It’s great news for us to get him,” said Carbery. “Obviously, he’s done a great job with the Brumbies in Australia, you can see his impact there, so I’m really looking forward to getting down and working with him and seeing what he can do with the team.”

And on a one-to-one basis, it’s hard to think of a coach who could be more in tune with Carbery than Larkham. The Aussie was never the stereotypical out-half but his languid style and creative instincts proved to be a perfect fit for Australia with whom he won the World Cup in 1999.

Larkham, like Carbery, also had to counter criticisms of his kicking but maybe the most obvious similarity between them, as players, comes with the fact that the Australian started his career at full-back before segueing into the 10 shirt for club and country. It’s no wonder that Carbery took notice of him at such a formative age.

He’s a special player and it’s funny how he started playing 15 when he was younger and then moved into 10, so it’s kinda cool to see how he did that and it will be great to chat to him about it.

Carbery moved from Auckland to Athy around about the time Larkham hung up his boots. Professional rugby was just a dozen years old. Structures and tactics were less of a constraint on an individual’s imagination and flair than in modern times when so much is calibrated and so little left to chance.

Players like Danny Cipriani and Ian Madigan have suffered from the suspicion that they are, if anything, too unpredictable to fit within that sort of straitjacket but Carbery insists there is still room for a player like him to operate in much the way that Larkham once had.

“I think most coaches give you the (licence) if you see something to have a go for it and obviously, if it doesn’t work out, it’s your responsibility. But there’s never ever really a boundary put on you. It’s great to see, and you could even see with (Larkham’s) Brumbies in Australia, the way they kind of played, they played what was in front of them, which was pretty cool to watch.”

Larkham’s arrival, coupled with the announcement that Graham Rowntree would be handed responsibility to coach the forwards, has come as a massive boon to Munster but Carbery had already declared his confidence in the project last season when signing a new contract to extend his stay in Limerick.

Though his first campaign since arriving from Leinster was hampered by injury, he still bagged 15 games and believes that the exposure he enjoyed at 10 will stand him in good stead as he looks ahead to the World Cup in Japan where he will serve as cover to Jonathan Sexton and to Rob Kearney at 15.

“It’s always great for the confidence, having played a lot more minutes in higher games at 10, so for me I felt last season was a great learning curve. I was able to get experience on and off the pitch. I did feel like it has helped my game grow and how I see the game, so definitely I thought last season was very beneficial for me.”

Carbery knows only too well how valuable versatility will be in a trimmed-down squad of 31 and offered up all the right words about being happy to wear any jersey regardless of number, but he made the move to Munster to play out-half and that will be his main focus between now and Japan.

He may be Sexton’s deputy but Carbery doesn’t opt to think of it that way. This is rugby, he said. Injuries are always a factor and his own focus is not so much on his place in the pecking order so much as how close to his peak he can come in the next three months or so.

He remembers well the Ronan O’Gara/Sexton debate at the 2011 World Cup and, while the current out-half debate is not nearly so nuanced, he understands the fascination others have when it comes to the 10 shirt given the role’s importance in the greater scheme of things.

“It’s part of the game,” he shrugged. “I think every position in the squad now, there’s four players in each position so you compete with them, you compete with yourself, you compete with the coaches as well.

“So it’s always going to be part-and-parcel with it in sport these days. Ronaldo and Messi are always compared. There are always comparisons.”

Joey Carbery was only turning 12 when Stephen Larkham brought one of the great Australian careers to an end in 2007. Munster’s new senior coach had already made an impression on the kid from Auckland by then.

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