Joey Carbery playing for position in Ireland’s future

Wednesday morning on Dublin’s southside and the brain is having to compute a few new realities.

Joey Carbery playing for position in Ireland’s future

The first is obvious as soon as you walk into what has always been known simply as ‘Donnybrook’.

Emblazoned in the trademark purple livery of a utility company, the stadium is to be known as Energia Park for the next ten years.

Fair enough.

The second challenge to the faculties comes in the form of Joey Carbery, Jordan Larmour and Robbie Henshaw posing for the cameras with the Leinster harp on their chests.

It’s an incongruous sight given how embedded everyone was in Ireland’s Six Nations story.

Carbery in blue gave particular cause for a second take.

The 22-year-old has appeared just seven times for the province this season and only the once – 22 minutes off the bench against Montpellier in January – since the third week of October. All bar six of his 481 minutes have been registered from full-back.

One of seven Grand Slammers drafted back into the Leinster side for today’s Guinness PRO14 game away to Ospreys, he finds himself patrolling the back field yet again as Ross Byrne gets the nod at out-half.

Joe Schmidt has spoken about a ‘needs must’ situation a few times in recent months and Cabery 15 is very much that for Leinster, but the player – and Ireland – really could do with him featuring much closer to the front line.

The Clontarf clubman has shown a remarkable ability to slot into the chair whenever it has been left vacant by Jonathan Sexton this last 18 months or so with Ireland.

Asking him to continue in that vein off the back of so few competitive reps in the position is unfair, though, and a far from ideal strategy as Schmidt continues to build the squad’s strength in depth before next year’s World Cup.

In fairness, fortune has been against him, too.

He was the starting ten against Bath in a pre-season game when he damaged his calf and had to come off. Then there was the wrist fracture he suffered against Fiji in November when 64 minutes into a damned impressive audition in the leading role.

Add in the ankle injury he suffered deputising for Sexton away to Northampton 15 months ago, and the ankle ligaments he tore when asked to quarterback against the USA last June, and the superstitious among us would be shooing him away from the ten jersey.

Carbery himself is publicly relaxed about the exact location of his place.

“Ten is obviously my position and it’s pretty tough to knock Johnny out of that position at this stage, playing so well. I’m happy if someone needs me to play somewhere else. I’m happy to be on the pitch.”

The last two months have reaffirmed that. He featured four times across the Grand Slam campaign and yet his total time on the pitch added up to just 59 minutes.

He didn’t demur with the statement that it was less than he would have liked.

“Yeah, I haven’t had a full 80 in a while.”

He isn’t alone in being frustrated by such intermittent opportunity. Leinster senior coach Stuart Lancaster has said that Carbery will “develop into a great ten” and time was set aside for him to play there with the province before he came off second best to a giant Fijian.

Schmidt described his hour or so against Fiji as “a bit special”. Imagine what he could if afforded a half-decent wedge of time in the role.

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