If Eddie O’Sullivan had his way then an injured Joey Carbery would be taking in today’s game from the RDS stands with one eye on Leinster and another on an Ulster side awaiting his arrival in Belfast during the summer.
Today: RDS, 5.35pm
Referee: George Clancy (IRFU)
TV: TG4, Sky Sports, BBC NI
Betting: Leinster 1/10 Ulster 13/1 Draw 30/1
Many have been the debates about what would be best for Carbery’s career arc but the former Ireland coach was the most high-profile voice to suggest that the Kiwi-born Athy man should make the switch up the M1.
Such is life for a player who burst onto the scene for club and country 15 or so months ago but one who has found game time in his preferred No.10 jersey to be kept at a premium due to both competition and injury.
“Well, it was two people talking in the media really, wasn’t it? It wasn’t anything important,” Carbery reasons. “I didn’t think much of it to be honest because the main people who really have proper opinions are the ones I listen to.
“Like, I’m happy in Leinster, I always will be happy in Leinster, and things aren’t that bad that I’m not starting [any games] or anything when I’m not injured. I haven’t paid too much attention to it.” Les Kiss could do with him.
Christian Lealifano has been a success since his arrival on a short-term deal from Australia but returns Down Under this month. That leaves Ulster with a gaping hole at out-half and with options limited.
Former Ireland U20 Johnny McPhillips has served as back-up lately but, with Paddy Jackson’s situation still up in the air due to legal proceedings and few players around the world out of contract right now, Kiss will need to produce a rabbit from the hat.
Just as he did with Lealifano actually. None of which is Carbery’s concern.
Still sidelined with a left wrist fractured in November, and which is only recently out of its cast, this is the second time in as many seasons that the 22-year-old’s otherwise rapid ascent has been temporarily stalled by the misfortune of injury.
The timing of the current ailment seems especially annoying given Leinster senior coach Stuart Lancaster had intimated that the player, used mostly by the club at full-back, would be afforded a decent spell in the out-half slot over the festive period.
Ross Byrne has made hay in his absence.
Though less heralded than Carbery — and still to earn an Ireland call-up from Joe Schmidt — Byrne has been very good nearly every time he has played and exceptional at others. Looming above both, of course, is Jonathan Sexton.
Though he is 32 now, Sexton shows few signs of edging towards the exit for club or country. Ian Madigan got fed up waiting for his chance a long time ago but Carbery is perfectly content to stay in Dublin and soak up all he can.
“If Johnny wasn’t there, and there’s no one competing with you, you’d go maybe a bit lethargic and maybe not push yourself to work harder. So, with Johnny there obviously you can learn from him.”
Carbery is a very different animal to the British and Irish Lion. Comparisons with Beauden Barrett are the norm — right down to the pair’s sometimes less than perfect place-kicking – but the young Irishman is liberal with his praise of his fellow club man. As good as Dan Carter, he says.
Sexton’s game control is what stands out for him.
Madigan used to rage at the constant suggestions that he lacked the ability to direct traffic when he was with Leinster and Ireland and claimed that few observers even understood what that meant.
For Carbery, it’s very simple. “It’s three things: time, score and weather. So, that’s where the control comes in. If you are winning by a good bit with a bit of time left then you will probably play for field position moreso but, if you’re losing with not much time, then you have to go for it.”
Ultimately, it’s about finding your own groove.
Rugby players differ. So do people. Sexton is notorious for his cranky nature and tendency to bawl teammates out of it whenever or wherever required. Carbery is a quieter, calmer soul but one who is coming to terms with his role as a commanding general.
“There is a line between positive and negative. You always have to be positive with the team but you can’t accept not great stuff all the time. There is a certain line where you still have to be positive while not accepting … dirt, really.”
Leinster’s gain …
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