As impressive as Leinster’s conveyor belt of homegrown fly-halves is, something always had to give.
Much like the late Princess of Wales bemoaning that “there were three of us in this marriage, so it was a bit crowded” ahead of her divorce to Charles, the presence of a trio of top-quality number 10s in Leo Cullen’s side meant it would be near impossible to hang onto them all.
Having Johnny Sexton, Joey Carbery, and Ross Byrne all featuring regularly as playmakers, as they will next season now Carbery has opted to join Munster, is the ideal scenario for Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt.
He named the three of them for this three-Test series in Australia, with first-choice Sexton expected to start Saturday’s opening clash with the Wallabies at Brisbane’s Suncorp Stadium. Carbery, 22, is the Ireland boss’s preferred bench back-up but at Leinster it was Byrne, 23, who started at 10 when Sexton was injured, the future Munster man seen as having greater potential at full-back.
Schmidt does not disagree that the uncapped Byrne ticks all the boxes as a 10; he would not have promoted him to his touring squad had he not. Indeed, when he made his call to Leinster several weeks ago to inquire if there was any interest in a move to Ulster to fill the out-half vacancy there, it was a question directed to both Byrne and Carbery.
That Carbery ended up at Munster rather than Ulster is neither here nor there from an Ireland perspective. Either way, both understudies will get gametime at 10 and that achieves Schmidt’s objective of not finding himself exposed in terms of experience in the position, as was the case on the eve of the 2015 World Cup quarter-final when Sexton failed a late fitness test and Ian Madigan was thrown in at the deep end on the eve of the game against Argentina in Cardiff.
Job done in that regard and Byrne will not expect to stay uncapped for too much longer as his international education under Schmidt takes shape.
“He’s done a really good job,” the Ireland boss said of Byrne last week. “You can’t dispute he’s a great sort of back-up to Johnny, and even his game management, he’s been in here for one training and he takes on responsibility very quickly with a real maturity that gives confidence to the players around him.
“That’s how you get your cohesion, that people know where they are meant to be, they know what they’re meant to do and he’s taken that mantle.
“So from that perspective, I think he’s done a really good job. He’s kicked out of hand pretty well, his goalkicking has been pretty sound but I guess that’s one of the things about Joey … Ian Madigan left and went to Bordeaux to start at 10 because it wasn’t happening here (with Leinster).
“And part of that in my discussion with him was that he wanted to go away and make himself into the sort of 10 that would be a starting 10 at one of the provinces, should he get back in time for the World Cup when he was first going away.
“And JJ Hanrahan went away (from Munster) to Northampton...we certainly want to keep the depth of talent that we can within the country so the good thing with Ross, I had a very, very brief chat with Ross and said, ‘Look, have you got any interest in going to Ulster?’, and he said, ‘No, look, I’m happy with Leinster’
“There was no hesitation in his mind.”
While Leinster are understood to be irked to have lost Carbery, Ulster still have a position to fill in the wake of Paddy Jackson’s exit from the province while Munster’s new fly-half joins a squad which already has four of them in situ. There are still cards to be dealt in this off-season and Schmidt sees IRFU performance manager David Nucifora having plenty of work to do in that regard in the coming days and weeks with Non-Irish Qualified (NIQ) options not off the table for the northern province.
“That’s part of his brief. It’s something that he will balance up and make a decision on. Is there potentially a concertina effect with the movement of Carbery. That’s potentially part of a solution, maybe an NIQ is another part of a solution. One thing’s for sure, we are desperately keen for Ulster to be strong. We need as many people at the top table as possible.
“I know that David is very keen for that as well. He has the job of an impossible balancing act of trying to keep all those balls in the air and I guess there’s going to be a fair few discussions over the next few days between provinces.“
As for Leinster, Schmidt is confident the conveyor belt is, and will keep, rolling fly-halves off the production line.
“One of the things, with Joey going, the two (Ireland) Under-20 10s, Harry (Byrne, Ross’s younger brother) and Conor (Dean), are both Leinster. Ciaran Frawley had one start in the PRO14 and was man of the match, one of the really good things was that those guys will emerge and step up. That’s another bonus, there might be a window for those guys to get involved.”
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