Joey Carbery's best game for Munster doesn't rule out exciting tactical change
With a big game in the melting pot, don't be surprised to see this tactical switch rolled out.
Joey Carbery is getting more and more assured as Munster's starting 10. With each game he plays, the 23-year-old is displaying a greater understanding of those around him and, though it is early days yet, taking the decision-making pressure off Conor Murray (and the other scrum-halves).
On Saturday, in Galway, Carbery had his best game in the red jersey. He played the conditions and game situation extremely well, backed his pack when they were getting on top and kept the backline ticking over. He punished Connacht for pressing high and committing bodies to spread across the field by kicking in behind them and finding touch extremely well.
Carbery scored his fourth try of the season for Munster to secure a bonus point and, ultimately, the victory but that was the cherry on top of an excellent, well-rounded performance. He was very good against Leinster, over the festive period, but his outing at The Sportsground was his best so far.
On Baz & Andrew's House of Rugby, [from 6:00 below] hosts Barry Murphy and Andrew Trimble were highly impressed with the Ireland international.
"Munster kept Connacht under pressure with low, drilled kicks into the corner," Murphy noted, with Trimble adding:
"That was one of the most significant contributions we've seen Carbery make. In that last five or six weeks we've seen more of that game-management and maturity from him. He's really finding his feet now and finding his role. He's got that 'X' factor but he's also able to put teams on the defensive and put balls in behind, turn wingers and make playing Munster very uncomfortable.
"As you say, and as Ronan O'Gara has said, that is that classic feeling when you are playing Munster - you will be uncomfortable, under pressure, getting heat in defence, and your scrum and lineout will be under pressure."
One Carbery kick in behind the Connacht lines did not find touch, and it was just as the outhalf planned. Tyler Bleyendaal came on for Alex Wootton and Munster shifted their backline around - Andrew Conway moving to the wing and Carbery dropping to fullback.
From that position, Carbery put in a perfectly weighted kick that forced Cian Kelleher to pick up five metres from his tryline and even closer to the touchline. Keith Earls was in hot pursuit of the kick and bundled Kelleher out for an attacking lineout.
Niall Scannell found Tadhg Beirne with his throw and Munster set up for the rolling maul. That drew in bodies and even more were committed when centres Dan Goggin and Chris Farrell surged forward on dummy runs.
Murray found Bleyendaal, sitting deeper, and he threw a skip pass that set up a two-on-two - Carbery and Conway versus Matt Healy and Darragh Leader. Earls was sprinting over from the left wing to be an inside pass option but Carbery did not need him. He stepped inside Healy and cruised over for his side's fourth try.
"We know how dangerous he is with ball-in-hand when he goes to the line at 10," said Eddie O'Sullivan (on eir Sport commentary duty), "but he's just as dangerous at 15."
The 15 option, where Carbery often played for Leinster, remains a great attacking option against wilting defences. With Bleyendaal now back playing regularly, Munster could leave Carbery on for the final quarter and let him do his worst.
Don't expect to see him donning the 15 jersey any time soon - Mike Haley has a firm grasp on that anyway - but Johann van Graan has clearly been running Carbery at fullback in U.L training drills.
"Carbery was brilliant," Murphy said. "Five out of five for his kicks at goal, and he scored a great try; showing his foot-work." Trimble added:
"It was nice to see that change-up as well, pushing him out to 15. He's almost got that little bit more space and it's like that extra bit of freedom for him out there, and slightly less responsibility. He looked like he enjoyed that. He's a really talented player."
It will be interesting to see if Munster deploy him at 15, later in games, in their Champions Cup ties with Gloucester and Exeter. Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt will be looking on closely, regardless, but will pore over the footage even closer should van Graan get creative.
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