Gordon D’Arcy: Moving Byrne or Carbery to Ulster sets dangerous precedent
Leinster won’t remain best in Europe if they have to solve Munster and Ulster’s problems
Joey Carbery in action for Leinster: it looks like Carbery or Ross Byrne will be coerced into leaving their boyhood team. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho
You don’t grow up in Wexford dreaming of pulling on the Ulster jersey. I can only imagine what Ross Byrne and Joey Carbery are thinking this week. It looks like one of them will be coerced into leaving their boyhood team on the cusp of establishing themselves. The harsh reality of professional sport is creeping into the unique four-into-one Irish rugby pyramid.
The IRFU mandate is clear: until non-Leinster provinces improve recruitment and academy structures, the ability of Leo Cullen and his coaches to do their jobs will be hindered. Connacht appear to be going just fine on both fronts, but cracks in the Munster and Ulster squads need papering over by Leinster.
I understand the predicament faced by David Nucifora and the Ireland team. For different reasons, one of the three best outhalves in Ireland needs to be redirected up to Belfast. Ideally, for them, it will be Joey Carbery, but Byrne could ably fill the void left by Paddy Jackson’s dismissal. Neither player wants to leave Leinster. Johnny Sexton is 33 in July. Eventually, Byrne and Carbery would have proved adequate replacements.
In due course one of them would be of a mind to leave, in order to play international rugby, but I’m not sure either player has finished their development under Stuart Lancaster.
Munster also need to recruit a new outhalf. There must be casualties in the pursuit of winning. They are “tired of learning lessons” as Peter O’Mahony stressed after Sunday’s defeat to Racing 92 in Bordeaux.
Leinster are going to lose an outhalf. With my old club lenses on, this is wrong and unfair. If Byrne/Carbery proves a success in Ulster then Leinster will suffer on two levels: a player nurtured from childhood will enter his prime elsewhere and Nucifora will have a valid excuse to keep switching Leinster men into other jerseys (there’s about to be nine of them on Ulster’s books).
It’s a short-term solution to a much larger and deeper problem.
Ridiculously, Leinster are being punished for a succession plan that is the envy of most organisations in European sport – home grown, with a constant supply in every position. That’s being eroded because Munster and Ulster back offices failed to get their ducks in a row during the good times. Now they need Leinster players to fill their ranks with quality.
Yes, Nucifora needs to increase player movement among the provinces but not to the detriment of Leinster’s short- to medium-term success.
See what happens in November. If, say, Byrne goes north, while Sexton and Carbery are in the Ireland squad, Ciarán Frawley gets dropped into the deep end for important Pro14 games. The knock-on effect could have Leinster travelling to Bloemfontein the week before a Champions Cup final because they failed to secure a home play-off. Munster, it can be stated with the benefit of hindsight, struggled on Sunday due to their fortnight in South Africa.
The point is Leinster have built a squad – using 53 players this season – that can dominate on all fronts and, as a result, Ireland benefit.
The national team takes priority over everything else. Joe Schmidt needs Carbery to play in the 10 jersey for at least 700 minutes by this time next year. This season he has banked 80 minutes against Treviso and he started the Fiji game at outhalf. This lack of game time in a specialist position might hurt Ireland when it counts the most – at the 2019 World Cup (should the worst case scenario reoccur in Japan).
The flip side is Byrne has earned the right to be starting Champions Cup matches. Moving between provinces would have been a big decision to make for me, tougher if asked to join a club with no coach in place and a culture under constant scrutiny. Hopefully, over the coming months, Ulster starts to repair some of the damage done this past year. Carbery/Byrne would ideally be the catalyst in driving change up north, primarily by wining matches for them.
Lasting change takes time but the opportunity to play a key role in the rehabilitation of Ulster might be an enticing opportunity for a professional with aspirations of becoming the starting Ireland number 10.
Still, Cullen was put in an awful position by two of his bosses last week. The instructions were clear: keep one, send the other up the road.
Desperate times. Ulster need help. John Cooney needs a strong partnership to press his claims for international promotion (I know the value of this better than most).
Conor Murray could also do with a regular link to someone he will play alongside in the green jersey. No disrespect to Ian Keatley or JJ Hanrahan, but neither player has stepped into this category while Tyler Bleyendaal has been recovering from neck injuries.
If Munster enter the market for an outhalf, if given a choice, Limerick over Belfast would be a more appealing destination.
Moving to another province is a tough pill to swallow, but plenty of players have turned it into a positive. Look at Andrew Conway and Chris Farrell. I know Jordi Murphy will be a success in Belfast. But the move can go badly wrong if the players and value system is at odds with experiences in a successful team environment. Byrne or Carbery simply may not click in Belfast and that is a serious risk at this crucial point in their careers.
Everyone is waiting to see who becomes the next Ulster coach. Especially the young outhalves.
There is another way to go. Rather than bleed Leinster from the throat maybe offer Ulster an outhalf with genuine potential. Ask Frawley if he would like to join them and compete against Johnny McPhillips with the guarantee of game time. The pair of them might even motivate each other to new heights.
It’s worked before. Nick Timoney couldn’t break into the Leinster Academy and now he’s thriving in the Ulster backrow. Tadhg Beirne was passed over for a full contract, played AIL for Lansdowne, joined the Scarlets and should prove a huge boost to Munster resources (they might need to ship on some foreigners to afford the calibre of outhalf needed to make the next step).
Maybe Irish rugby will be better served by Sexton, Byrne and Carbery wearing the 10 jersey in three different provinces but Leinster do not deserve such a heavy tax for producing the best players only for them to be taken away just as their best years are coming.
So the system has a flaw. My instinct is that this is a dangerous precedent to set. Leinster are the best team in Europe for a reason but remaining dominant on two fronts can’t last if they have to solve Munster and Ulster’s lack of specialised talent.
Leinster great Isa Nacewa bows out
I played against Isa Nacewa for the 2005 Lions, in our last game before the third Test, a full three seasons before he arrived into Leinster. Isa and Joe Rokocoko were the wingers, causing havoc every time they touched the ball. I couldn’t separate them for impact.
The hair was a little shorter when Michael Cheika brought him over in the summer of 2008, and nobody knew much about him, but I told the lads we were getting a special player.
That was before we knew him as a person. Rocky Elsom also showed up that season so everyone remembers the big Wallaby flanker’s insane impact on the pitch but it was Isa who instantly embodied the mental resilience Cheika had been trying to instill in the group. It doesn’t matter what people say about us, it doesn’t matter what an enormous French or English pack throws at us or how the media label us, we are going to fight through and come out the other side.
Nacewa put those words into actions, usually with the ferocity of his tackling. He would, and still can, destroy players with a well-timed whip-lashing shoulder.
At the end of his first campaign we all had European winners medals.
What still amazes me is Isa’s ability to deliver the same quality of performance on a weekly basis. Even his rare bad days remain at a standard other players hope to achieve in their good games. He loves playing rugby and has an infectious personality that make those around him enjoy it too. You’d come away from a brief chat with Isa feeling good about yourself. That takes a rare type of character.
The truly great leaders instinctively understand that leadership is about making your team-mates better players. Isa is an incredible captain with an phenomenal impact on games for a wing/fullback (an outhalf once-upon-a-time, it was a no-brainer to play him at 12 when Robbie Henshaw was injured).
Never mind being Leinster’s best ever foreigner, Isa is the club’s greatest ever player in the professional era. Rocky was only with us for a year, Felipe Contepomi, while magnificent, could be enigmatic while at different periods Irish players have had to prioritise the national team, whereas Isa was always there, keeping the team together, influencing a game in the depths of winter, in some obscure corner of Wales or Scotland, where we had no right to win but did because he was on the field.
Now 180-plus games and 700 points later, he is finally calling it a day (for real this time). I’d be surprised if he doesn’t reappear as a coach in the very near future.
Enjoy retirement, mate.
An unfortunate example of hindsight bias
Reaction to Johann van Graan’s decision to leave Simon Zebo on the Munster bench last Sunday is an unfortunate example of hindsight bias. Was the selection of Alex Wootton over Zebo due to injury, patchy form, the sin-binning against the Cheetahs, or all the above?
Wootton was in reasonable form before Bordeaux but perhaps the fact he’s a Munster player next season came into consideration and while his missed tackle on Teddy Thomas did not cost Munster a place in the Champions Cup final, it did reflect the overall performance.
Granted, Zebo’s defending isn’t a reason to pick him but his late impact invites plenty of told-you-so opinions.