Stuart Lancaster: Carbery’s future should lie in his own hands
Leinster coach wants 22-year-old to remain with the province rather than move to Ulster
Stuart Lancaster believes Joey Carbery should have the final say over his Leinster future. Photograph: Oisin Keniry/Inpho
What might ultimately prove to be one of the most divisive moves triggered by the IRFU continues to be a focus of interest and concern as Leinster face into their most important match of the season against Racing 92 in Bilbao on Saturday.
Joey Carbery’s move or none-move to Ulster has been characterised by senior coach Stuart Lancaster as “no distraction” for the players but Leinster sensitivities surrounding the future of the 22-year-old, and whether he will fill an outhalf hole in Ulster’s roster next season, continue to rise.
Leinster, through their senior coach, have emphatically rejected the idea with Lancaster clearly stating his preference for Carbery to stay.
“In my view, Joey has developed brilliantly here. He’s a fantastic player and I wouldn’t want him to leave,” said Lancaster. Lancaster’s voice is also Leinster’s voice.
“My understanding is that the player should make the decision,” he added. “It’s my belief as well, not my understanding, my belief that the player should make the decision because at the end of the day, if you’re ever in this position, then you put the player at the centre and do what’s right for the player.
“If the player feels that the right thing to do is to stay and develop at Leinster alongside the other players who he’s worked with and grown up with, then I think that’s going to be his call.”
Lancaster’s is an authoritative voice in the province and he would not have stated his views without full Leinster approval.
It is also on message with what scrum coach John Fogarty said two weeks ago about the player being central to their plans and it counters what Ulster Director of Rugby Bryn Cunningham said after Munster stopped them reaching the Pro 14 play-offs in Thomond Park
“At the moment the IRFU are working in that area with Leinster around that ten scenario,” said Cunningham.
“We are not really involved in that. There are two sides to anybody moving within the Irish system.”
Monday’s conference was also characterised by a request from Leinster to direct questions about Carbery and outhalf Ross Byrne to Lancaster only and not to draw in lock Devin Toner or centre Robbie Henshaw, who were also scheduled for interview.
The request was agreed to implicitly although when Henshaw was asked – in the context of Leinster backrow Jordi Murphy playing for Ulster next season – about his controversial move from Connacht to Leinster the question was shut down by a Leinster official.
When Henshaw moved in 2016 it was met with rancour and allegations of Leinster asset-stripping the weaker province.
“Hugely disappointing that in the strongest growing area in Ireland they take away the marquee player,” said former Ireland and Lions prop Paul Wallace.
It has worked for Ireland and Joe Schmidt in that Henshaw has become, along with Garry Ringrose, an indispensible centre at the heart of the Ireland team. Henshaw later said it was also his decision “entirely.”
Lancaster faced similar situations during his coaching career with England and understands that with just a little over a year to go before the Rugby World Cup splicing Leinster DNA into Ulster would hurt the Leinster team and fans just as it did in Connacht.
“I’ve been involved in this sort of situation quite a few times in England in my role, not just as an England coach but also in charge of the academies,” explained Lancaster.
“Often you’ll get a situation where maybe a player is sat and there’s a decision to make: is this the right thing to do, is it right to go to an Under-20 World Cup? Is it right to have an off-season?
“My view has always been, and still is, you do what’s right for the player. You put the player front and centre of the decision, so you don’t do anything other than that. If one party thinks this and another party thinks that, it’s about what’s right for the player.
“I don’t think it’s anyone’s fault that Joey hasn’t played as much this year (at outhalf) as everyone would have liked.
“You look at the injury at the start of pre-season and you look at the injury in the Fiji game that pretty much ruled him out of a whole chunk of time, and obviously the Six Nations came.”
There is truth to what Lancaster says about injury but the reality remains that Carbery has had pitch time on 12 occasions this season. He has started nine matches and come off the bench in three.
In eight games he has started at fullback and has started just one game against Benetton in March at outhalf, the position Schmidt wants him to play to become a credible and seasoned backup to Johnny Sexton come Tokyo 2019.
“I think he’s a great player,” continued Lancaster. “You asked me about Joey and if he is a 10 or a 15, and I look at Beauden Barrett and I still think the same. I look at Joey and the comparisons are so prevalent for me.
“We’ve got to ask the question, is it right for a player to move at this point and who is going to benefit? Because it’s a massive decision to move a player away from his family and friends and away from the network which has supported him in his development.”
Of anybody in the Leinster squad, Henshaw knows the answer to that.