Away from the gnashing of teeth in both the media and social media over Joey Carbery’s almost anguished decision to relocate to Munster, there was always going to be a funny side over his move within the Irish squad, and so it comes to pass that the players have given him a new nickname: Rog.
Conor Murray freely revealed Carbery's new moniker prior to yesterday's training session: "There's a bit of slagging at the moment, calling him ROG!" As much as anything else, Carbery is going to need a thick skin, for this will be typical of Munster's welcoming process, albeit Murray won't be alone in hailing Carbery's arrival.
“It’s great, it makes sense for Joey especially. He’s looking to get more game-time, he’s going to have to come down to Munster and compete for a place because there are lads who are hungry to have the number 10 jersey too because you’ve quite a few number 10s there now. Joey will boost our squad massively, he’s a class player. He’s 22, he’s learnt so much and has a lot of experience. You can even see what he’s learnt off Johnny, he steps in when Johnny steps out for reps and he’s well able to take hold of the team and control what’s going on. It’s very exciting.”
One of the attractions for Carbery, undoubtedly, is that not only does the move to Munster offer the possibility of more game time in his preferred position of out-half, and potentially for big Guinness Pro14 derbies, Heineken Champions Cup pool games and perhaps any knock-out matches that might follow, but that those would be in harness with Murray.
Of all the combinations that require game time, none do so more than half-back. Murray says they have already built a rapport in the Irish squad, but this can only be enhanced by being in the Munster firmament together.
“Definitely. Game-time is when your partnership starts to grow properly but hanging around with him and getting to know him over the last few years has been brilliant and that’ll definitely help when he comes down to Munster and start to build something there. Like I said, he’s a top quality player and it’s really exciting for Munster and Ireland.”
Andrew Conway, Felix Jones and Ian Keatley, via Connacht, have all shown it can be done as well.
“Absolutely, yeah, he can see that it’s been done before. There’s an opportunity there for him to go well, with Munster we’ve been doing really well and we’re getting there. This is just going to add another element to us, I’m sure the lads will tell him how to settle into Limerick life.”
Of course, they were recently foes when Leinster beat Munster in the Pro14 semi-finals at the RDS by 16-15, with Carbery at full-back. This was a defeat which Murray admitted was easier to process than the European semi-final defeat to Racing, when Munster’s no-show in the first 25 minutes contributed to a loss which frustrated the scrum-half to another level altogether.
“It’s been a great season obviously with Munster, if disappointing towards the end of it. The Racing game definitely hurt me more than the Leinster semi-final, because against Racing we didn’t play and gave them a lead and blew it a little bit. You don’t do that in semi-finals, and then the Leinster one, pretty much after the game, it’s a tough thing to take but I was realistic about it.
“Leinster are the best team at the moment, they are. They deserve the success they’ve had this year; being a Munster man, that can be tough, but you’ve mates on that team too and you see them doing well, it is what it is.
“That day against Leinster, we played well. We played one of our best games of the year and Leinster made a few changes, but we just came up short. It’s easier to take a defeat like that when you play well and they just played better, whereas the Racing game we just kind of gave them a lead, didn’t play well and played catch -up. You don’t want to do that, you want to give yourself the best chance.
“I think we’re realistic, we’re getting there with Munster definitely.
“It is frustrating at times, but at least we fired a shot in that semi-final. We threw a few punches and we just came up short. They were very, very good on the day too. There was nothing in it, but that just makes it easier to accept down the line when you reflect.”
Coming up against the Aussies in their backyard, they're a class side, they've got class players, they express themselves and they're very hard to play against
Murray cut his own international teeth in the 2011 World Cup in New Zealand, when playing a key role off the bench in the pool win over the Wallabies, and also has happy memories from his only trip to Australia, when beginning to establish himself as a world-class scrum-half in the Lions’ winning test series.
“Yeah, very happy. Awesome country isn’t it? At the end of quite a long season it’s a cool country to come to. Not talking about rugby, it’s a nice place to go. Rugby-wise I do have happy memories, obviously with the Lions in 2013, but this is a completely different challenge. It’s an exciting one.
“We were in a good spot at the end of March. We’ve a lot of work to do to kind of make sure we step forward from that mark where we left it on St Patrick’s Day. Coming up against the Aussies in their backyard, they’re a class side, they’ve got class players, they express themselves and they’re very hard to play against, especially defensively.
“They like to play with an awful lot of width. They’ve a lot of dangerous athletes out wide. It’s great, though, I think everyone’s buzzing to be here. It’s a really exciting challenge for us as a group and we’re loving it so far.”
Travelling such a distance after such a rewarding season also offers an entirely fresh challenge which clearly enthuses Murray as well.
“Yeah, I think this group, the success that we had the last time we were together was fantastic, we’ve all been aiming for that for quite a while but we all want to finish this season on a high and we’re all really competitive that way.
“It’s a challenge to come here against one of the big-dog teams and put down a marker, and to get a result down here is something everyone in our group wants to do – our coaching staff, the wider staff and our playing group. It’s a really competitive environment and I think we’re really good at that, just moving on and looking at the next target, our next challenge, and this is great.”