BRENDAN O'BRIEN: The 10 positives that put Schmidt’s mind at ease

It’s hard not to think that Joe Schmidt spent a good chunk of Saturday evening sitting in the stands of the Aviva Stadium with an inner glow of satisfaction insulating him against any looming October chill.

A fit and well-tested Jonathan Sexton was watching the same game in his civvies, his three successive starts for Leinster earning him a day off before the season turns towards Europe and into the section of fast track that is the November internationals.

Ross Byrne was deputising for the master. Third-choice out-half for Ireland’s summer tour to Australia, here he was banking another hour or so of valuable experience. Opposite him at ten for Munster, rather than at 15 for Leinster or on the bench, was Joey Carbery.

This was just the scenario that Schmidt and the IRFU’s performance director David Nucifora had wanted so badly late last season when it emerged, controversially, that they were in favour of a move from Dublin for one or other of these young pivots.

Both showed at the weekend just why there has been so much invested in them.

Byrne’s man of the match award seemed a tad excessive given James Lowe’s two-try contribution but it was the 23-year old St Michael’s grad whose skip pass opened the door for the Kiwi down the left touchline and a move that ended in a penalty try.

His kicking at goal was immaculate and his penchant for cross-kicks from open play was again clear to see - even if the execution was a tad off on one and the ploy is in danger of becoming an easy read for opposing wingers.

Byrne does manage the game efficiently. He is similar to Sexton in that regard. A man who is careful and economical with his words, he displayed his self-confidence when asked whether he could one day be as good as Sexton. “I believe I can, yes.” Byrne is only five months older than Carbery and has played just one more game of professional rugby – 55 to 54 - but he has a bit more experience of calling the shots at ten. Thirty-four of his appearances have been as a starting out-half. Carbery’s equivalent figure is 18.

That the latter is still bedding down into his new job and surroundings is only to be expected and there were signs on Saturday – an easy missed conversion here and a poor kick to the backfield there – that he still has to tighten the odd screw.

Yet he twice caused hearts to flutter in the Leinster defence with some mazy runs from broken play, he linked moves together effortlessly and he sent one brilliant kick scuttling to the corner in the second-half.

The question is whether he is ready now. Fully ready.

Munster begin their Heineken Champions Cup campaign with a daunting test away to Exeter Chiefs on Saturday and Johann van Graan is adamant that a side with such a relatively inexperienced ten can come away with something to show for their efforts.

Oh, most definitely we can. That’s why we got him, because I believe he is going to be a world-class player.

Schmidt clearly agrees. It is Carbery, rather than Byrne, who has been primed for the back-up role to Sexton as the 2019 World Cup in Japan looms and you have to wonder how much better he can or will be with a season at ten behind him. There was one moment 13 minutes from time here when he sent Andrew Conway through a gap in the Leinster line with a no-look reverse pass that was so simple and yet so unexpected that it took the breath away. You can’t help but think that Munster are blessed to have him.

“He’s done really well,” said van Graan. “Sometimes you forget he’s only 22 and he’s settling into playing ten consistently. But he’s just taken it in his stride.

"We’ve got big competition in that ten spot and he knows that as well. But this week he was all the same: nothing different this week to the previous weeks. He’s so calm, he takes us forward and he’s very clear and concise in his decision-making. He fitted in and I’m glad to have him.”

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