Should Ireland’s call come today for Joey Carbery to start at number 10 on Saturday, it stands to reason he will be in a better position to prove his worth in the role than he was this summer.
This weekend’s Test against Italy in Chicago represents the first opportunity to see whether the IRFU’s wish to see Carbery move from Leinster in search of more game time at fly-half is being rewarded.
It was last May, on the eve of the series against the Wallabies, that Carbery opted to join Munster in order to fulfil his objective of becoming a starting out-half and thereby earn a place on Ireland’s 2019 World Cup squad as the back-up to Johnny Sexton.
Stymied at Leinster as that position was regularly filled by Ross Byrne in Sexton’s absence, Carbery had been restricted to just one start at fly-half in their double-winning campaign and in that context, his start in the green 10 jersey in the opening Test against Australia was a potential banana skin. That Ireland went down 18-9 in Brisbane was not a reflection of Carbery’s performance but now he has the luxury of a solid body of early-season work in the position should he get the nod at today’s team announcement.
With Sexton back at Carton House preparing to face Argentina in Dublin seven days later, Carbery and the uncapped Byrne are poised for action at Soldier Field. For the new Munster man, celebrating his 23rd birthday today, having started six games in a row at fly-half, he is in a much better place now that he was five months ago.
“Yeah, that was the main reason for the move, to be getting that game time,” Carbery said. “I was pretty happy with how it went (against the Wallabies). I only played 56 minutes and then Johnny came on but I felt like with the game time I had last season I hadn’t really had too much time under my belt at 10 so I thought I did well.
“Obviously there was stuff I can always learn from and that missed kick (a 46th-minute penalty as Ireland trailed 8-6) could have got us into a better position but I was relatively happy with how it went. A disappointing result but from a personal perspective, I was happy.
“I haven’t watched it back since, really, other than the review but to start a Test against Australia, down in Australia, it’s pretty cool to be able to say you’ve done that and a lot of learnings came from it.”
Moving to Munster is serving Carbery and his new team well, it seems.
“I’m really happy with how it’s gone and we’re in a good place in Europe and a good place in the PRO14 after that win over Glasgow on the weekend.
“There’s so much stuff we can build on, so much to work on and it’s really exciting. It’s quite a young group and with the likes of Chris Farrell to come back in, Jack O’Donoghue as well, it’s all exciting. There’s so much ahead of us and so much we can achieve.
“Everyone’s looking at that, that we keep building week on week, get ourselves in the right places and then we know how good we are as a team.”
Of his own development, he added: “Every game you learn from, you review it. There’s good coaches and good players around you that can tell what you’ve done good and what you’ve done bad. I think, having started those six games and come off the bench for the first two, it’s precious moments.
“For me, I feel I’m best when I’m continuously playing and getting into the rhythm of things. I’m stoked with how much I’m learning down there from the people and the coaches and I’m really happy with how it’s going so far.”
Starting again for Ireland would clearly be another Carbery objective.
“It’s great to be involved in the 23 but starting is so much better. You can just impose yourself a bit more on the game and so that’s what I’m building towards. I’ve got to be patient as well, it’s not just going to all fall into place, you’ve go to work hard, learn as much as I can when I’m in training and in the game. It’s an exciting time.”
Being in Chicago once again, two years on from a dream debut off the bench in Ireland’s historic win over the All Blacks, cannot help but put Carbery in a good place.
“It’s a really cool city and great memories of what happened here two years ago but I suppose we’re here to make more good memories. So it’s a pretty exciting week ahead.”