Time is now for primed Joey Carbery ahead of first Six Nations start

Coaches Andy Farrell and Stephen Larkham believe the best is yet to come from Carbery

Munster out half Joey Carbery, who is fully fit after an extended period of injuries, says that he is "relishing" the opportunity to make his first start in the Six Nations away to France in place of injured captain Johnny Sexton. Video: VOTN

The dynamic around Ireland's second round Six Nations clash with France has certainly changed now. Johnny Sexton has been Ireland's starting outhalf on each of Ireland's biennial treks to the Stade de France since he made his debut as a 68th minute replacement for Ronan O'Gara in a losing cause in 2010.

Sexton has a decent record in those five ensuing starts in Paris, with two wins, a draw and two defeats, scoring two tries in a 17-point haul when Ireland sealed the 2014 title and all 15 points, including le drop, to kickstart the 2018 Grand Slam.

By stark contrast, although he's been the anointed understudy/heir apparent since steering Ireland home against the All Blacks in Chicago in November 2016 in the week he turned 21, Carbery has been so bedeviled by injuries that this will be his first Six Nations start. Not only that, it will be Carbery's first game against France. All Irish eyes will be on Joey, and quite a few French ones as well, not leas their back-rowers.

In his 28 previous Tests there have been nine starts, three against the USA, two friendlies against Italy, one against Fiji, last summer's test against Japan, the first test against Australia in Brisbane in June 2018 and the November win over Argentina.


Part of only four defeats, including Japan and New Zealand in the World Cup, there have been some other assured endgame cameos, not least in the Grand Slam coronation at Twickenham three years ago and another win over the All Blacks last November when landing three match-clinching penalties.

Besides, if Carbery is ever going to be primed for this more demanding role, it's surely now. Although last week's final quarter against Wales was his first outing since suffering a fractured elbow in Munster's epic win away to Wasps, he has been in the squad since last summer.

A week after the win over the All Blacks, Carbery also finished off last year’s Autumn Series with a player of the match performance against Argentina when starting at ‘10’ and finishing the game at fullback with a couple of typically smooth line breaks.

This is harder to do from the more congested outhalf channel but prior to that Argentina game his backs coach cum mentor at Munster, Stephen Larkham, told The Iirsh Times: "The more game time he has the more you're going to see those highlights shining through. That player hasn't gone. He's only matured. He's learned a lot from these experiences. He's been able to reflect on the game, understand how composure is so important in leading the team. I think he's learned a lot around leadership and he's still got those natural attributes.

“It is there, it’s just that he hasn’t had the opportunities yet. It’s definitely all there still.”

Stephen Larkham: “The more time Carbery gets out on the field you can just see that exponential growth that he’s going to have.” Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho

Larkham also noted: “He’s going to be a really great player. There’s no doubt about that. The more time he gets out on the field you can just see that exponential growth that he’s going to have.”

On foot of Carbery’s elevation to the starting team yesterday, Farrell said: “I’m excited to see Joey just being himself. He’s a man of many talents and he’s one hell of a player.

“I just want to see him be himself, be super confident that he’s got to bring his own game to the party. He’s in a great place. He has been involved in some big games for us over the years and he’s had some downs with the injuries, but he has had a solid two-and-a-half weeks training with us. He knows exactly how we want to play as a team and we’re expecting him to deliver that like everyone else.”

Farrell also concurs with Larkham that Carbery’s enforced time out of the game when plagued by ankle and wrist injuries have made him stronger mentally.

“I think his experiences make him more hungry to get back on this type of stage and perform and be the player that he knows he is and wants to be. People obviously take the rough with the smooth as far as injury is concerned and they take their opportunity by preparing well. When the opportunity comes, they take it with both hands and that’s what the best of them do. This is an opportunity for Joey.”

Carbery has a good skillset, is an excellent goalkicker and has a sound temperament, and the player himself said he felt ready, both physically and mentally.

“I think anyone who has been through a long-term injury knows how difficult it is. To have come through that teaches you to enjoy the good things in life sometimes so to be honest, I’m just delighted to be back playing, to be back out there injury-free, just relishing the whole environment of going into such a big game at the weekend. It puts everything back into context really when you’re back playing and you’re not injured, but definitely, having gone through that, I feel mentally a lot stronger for it.”