Composed Joey Carbery filling big Munster ‘10’ boots with ease
In-form youngster says there is a feeling in the side that they can now take on anyone
Munster’s Joey Carbery kicks the winning penalty against Exeter Chiefs at Thomond Park. Photograph: Bryan Keane/Inpho
On the Monday morning after he missed three penalties out of seven in Munster’s 13-12 defeat away against Castres in round four, by all accounts Joey Carbery’s body language and behaviour in training at Munster’s High Performance Centre never betrayed it for a second.
It’s easy to forget he only turned 23 last November, but his response that Monday and in his four Munster appearances since underline his maturity and mental strength, as well as the “character” Johann van Graan referenced after this taut and tense win.
Having taken his tally of place kicks since the Castres’ game to 19 from 19 with two more penalties here, when Mitch Lees was rather harshly penalised for tackling Peter O’Mahony in the air in the 72nd minute, Carbery unhesitatingly stepped up to the plate.
From around 45m out taking into account the angle, his kick allowed for the left-to-right breeze as it faded between the posts.
“Look, it was not a great day kicking but I think everyone has their bad days. I’m not using it to spur me on or anything, I’m just looking to improve each time.”
“Yeah, obviously 20 for 20, I’m pretty happy with it but there’s a lot of work in behind the scenes going on and help that we’re getting to improve our individual skills. So we’re having kicking competitions and stuff to kind of put us under that bit of pressure so when it comes to a game we know what it feels like rather than just kicking for the sake of it.”
In truth, no less than most others, Carbery struggled to impose his attacking game in the face of Exeter’s fast defensive line speed and accurate tackle execution.
“Obviously we made a few mistakes, and dropped a few balls, but they’re a really good team at slowing our ball and not letting us do too much, to be honest,” he admitted. “I suppose the day that was in it and the game that was in it, it was the right thing to do what we did. We came away with the win so we were pretty happy with it.”
Carbery will be one of 11 Munster players who will be part of the Ireland squad for the opening two rounds of the Six Nations, and this Munster team will not play again until the quarter-finals, when rather than a cherished home tie they will be away against Edinburgh. Still, better to be travelling than not to be there at all.
As Carbery put it: “It makes waking up for the next eight weeks that bit easier knowing that we still have a quarter-final to look forward to.
“It’s exciting times. The team is improving every day we’re learning, we’re improving and we’re taking our learnings from our mistakes which we’ve had a few this year but I think that’s only going to make us stronger.”
Standing over that decisive place kick, for a rare minute of silence amid the otherwise unrelenting din, and playing on days like this were what Carbery signed up for when opting to move from Leinster.
“Yeah, definitely. It’s an extremely special place to come. I’m sure it’s not that great to be on the opposition team but for us, when the crowd make themselves heard, it’s deafening and I’d say for the opposition it’s tough to come here and try and impose themselves. It kind of gives us energy then as well. It can swing your games, so the fans are extremely special to us, and we thank them every time, and tonight was an example of how good they were.”
Carbery has big boots to fill, and inheriting the fabled Munster “10” jersey could have been a little daunting, but as well as being a gifted rugby player he seems very composed for his age.
“The people who have played ‘10’ ahead of me in the years gone by, they are extremely good players and it’s a big role to fill. I suppose it’s kind of driving me on to be a better player and make the job easier for the team-mates around me.”
He added: “I’ve said it a few times but we’ve learned so much from these last four games that I think it just gives us a mindset to be excited, and feel like we can take on anyone.”