Plenty of life after Leinster for shellshocked Carbery

There were times during Joey Carbery’s explanation of his decision to leave Leinster when you wondered whether the gifted fly-half had lost his grasp of geography.

Surely the 22-year-old knew that Limerick was only down the road from his Kildare hometown of Athy, yet so obvious was the gut-wrenching impact of the impending exit from his beloved Blues you got the feeling he imagined Munster’s High Performance Centre to be positioned somewhere on Skellig Michael, perched atop the rocky outcrop, accessible only by an occasional ferry from the mainland.

As Carbery contemplated a melancholy and monastic life among the puffins, you could see him striving to stay on message and clinging onto the bigger picture that pulling on the red No10 jersey would lead to vastly increased minutes in his chosen position than the 80 he was afforded in the blue equivalent with just one start at fly-half for Leinster last season.

More minutes will lead to greater assurance come the 2019 World Cup, which kicks off in Japan in a little over 15 months, when Joe Schmidt will be requiring a seasoned fly-half to cover for the doomsday scenario of an injured Johnny Sexton.

“I suppose by the time the World Cup comes around I want to be at my peak,” said Carbery. 

“I know I’ll get there with regular game-time and get into the rhythm of playing 10, which I’m really excited for because I know with the right opportunities where I can get to. That’s pretty exciting. I’m really looking forward to it.”

Munster supporters should also be excited — a new era under Johann van Graan is beginning to take shape as the South African prepares for his first full pre-season since leaving the Springboks to replace Rassie Erasmus in November.

Carbery makes it a quartet of signings for 2018-19, joining Scarlets lock Tadhg Springbok, back row Arno Botha, and young Sale Sharks full-back Mike Haley as exciting new blood to arrive over the summer as van Graan bids to deliver a first trophy for the province since the 2011 Magners League success.

Two disappointing semi-final performances last month, against Racing 92 in the Champions Cup and Carbery’s Leinster in the Guinness PRO14, have given the head coach plenty of food for thought about both the size of the task and the obvious potential of his squad if he can mould them properly during the off-season.

The addition of Carbery can only help his cause. 

Yet as beneficial and logical as joining Munster can be for both van Graan and Carbery, you sensed the leaving of Leinster will remain the most difficult hurdle to overcome for a little while yet, even if he had been filling in at full-back rather than fly-half.

In an ideal world, the playmaker was asked yesterday, would he be staying at Leinster?

“I don’t know. It’s tough,” said Carbery.

An ideal world would be that I’d be the best No10 in the world, didn’t have to train — a lot of different things. I don’t know. My friends live in Leinster, all my friends, my girlfriend are all living in Leinster. That’s the tough part, but this decision was purely based on rugby. So that’s what it is.

On the subject of whether he was now comfortable with the decision he had reached, Carbery said: “It’s still pretty new to me, this whole thing has come up pretty quickly. 

"I do feel comfortable that I’ve made this decision and I can get on with it now, and it will get easier with time.

“It’s still quite raw at the moment but I’m happy that I made the right decision.”

That will hardly be music entirely soothing to Munster’s ears, but Carbery will be given every opportunity to make a success of what may well be a career-defining move for the 22-year-old. 

He has the opportunity to forge a meaningful half-back partnership with Conor Murray that could see him ease majestically into Sexton’s green No10 jersey when the great one retires in the not-too-distant future and he will be surrounded by Ireland squad mates in Limerick every bit as determined as he will be to ensure his time with Munster is profitable for all concerned.

Furthermore, there will be players and coaches such as Andrew Conway and Felix Jones on hand to remind the potentially homesick Carbery that not only can there be life after Leinster, but also that the journey home every now and then is almost all motorway and does not involve praying for calm waters.


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