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Wednesday 12 December 2018

Standoff of the tens

Byrne and Carbery bid to be Sexton's Ireland deputy

Leinster’s Ross Byrne will lead the Blues attack against Munster tomorrow
Leinster’s Ross Byrne will lead the Blues attack against Munster tomorrow

While the media storm was blowing up around Joey Carbery's next destination, Ross Byrne must have been quietly confident that his patience was paying off.

The push came from the IRFU for Leinster to move one of their out-halfs and Byrne was never going anywhere.

"There was a conversation of potentially going elsewhere but I was very happy with how I had gone over the last year or two years. Leinster is where I want to be," said Byrne.

The game time accrued last year alone from 26 Leinster appearances, 19 as a starter, meant Byrne played more minutes (1,560) than anyone else at the province.

It simply never made sense for him to consider a move. He was getting what he wanted, where he wanted it.

Joey Carbery has been in fine form since his move from Leinster to Munster
Joey Carbery has been in fine form since his move from Leinster to Munster

In truth, this was just a smokescreen.

That is because the IRFU wanted Carbery to play at out-half, either by moving from Leinster or by moving Byrne so that Carbery would play there for the Blues.

That was all during the off-season. Fast forward to now and Byrne is expected to take the number ten shirt from Jonathan Sexton tomorrow so that the theory can be tested: Which is the better man in the number ten shirt?

Of course, this is all predicated on Carbery playing the position for the fourth week in a row. This has been a consistent choice by coach Johann van Graan to allow Carbery to find his rhythm.

"I think he's doing well," said Leinster senior coach Stuart Lancaster about Carbery.

"I don't think anyone doubted his ability to play out-half.

Stuart Lancaster
Stuart Lancaster

"His ability to play on the frontline was never in doubt in my mind. It is just getting the best out of your resources and understanding what was best for us and for him, we felt.

"He has gone to Munster and played well, particularly last weekend against Ulster. I thought he was excellent."

Here we look at five key traits that the best out-halves to ever play the game have possessed - think Barry John, Andrew Mehrtens, Stephen Larkham, Jonny Wilkinson and Ronan O'Gara - and detail how Byrne and Carbery stack up in these departments.

1. GAME-MANAGER

The similarities between Jonathan Sexton and Byrne are plain to see.

The long, lean build, the gait, the instinct to manage the game, rather than force, it is natural to them.

Incumbent out-half Johnny Sexton
Incumbent out-half Johnny Sexton

This is an area that Carbery has to work on as the Athy man played full-back for Blackrock College in the Leinster Schools Senior Cup, was signed as a scrum-half to the Leinster Academy and played more of his rugby for Leinster from full-back.

2. GAME-BREAKER

This is where Carbery excels as one of those rare talents in Irish rugby who can change a game with one glide or with that foot-on-the-gas acceleration.

Perhaps, it is why his best position has been a cause for debate. The footwork is often better used in space rather than the tight confines of out-half where back rows are that much closer to their prey.

Still, it is not like Carbery lacks any of the basic skills of the game. He can kick, play-make and pass very well and is brave to a fault.

He just has to be given the responsibility and the time to reach his potential in his favourite position.

In contrast, Byrne knows his limitations as a runner and threat from deep. He is there as a facilitator rather than a game-breaker, usually working others into space rather than taking it himself.

3. GOAL-KICKER

This has always been a foundation of Byrne's game.

The calm and composure come from a whole career as the main man for St Michael's College and in the various age-grade teams for Leinster and Ireland. The simple fact that Carbery has moved around the positions has aided his understanding of the game and progress as a footballer.

He has just never had the predominant responsibility of 'frontline' goal-kicker in the professional arena. Until now.

4. LEADERSHIP

This is where Sexton and Byrne are different.

The Leinster captain is a hard task-master and is still mastering the art of captaincy.

There is leading-by-example and there is the vocal side of it.

Byrne's strength in this department is that he doesn't appear to get ruffled.

He is measured and brings an aura of calculated cool to what he does.

Likewise, this is an area in which Carbery is growing into the role as something much closer to Byrne than Sexton.

5. CULTURE CHANGER

The presence of Sexton means Byrne and Carbery have never had to carry this burden.

In fairness, the strength of character to drive the course from losing to winning is not within everyone. While Byrne has the breathing space to work with and learn from Sexton, Carbery has been hailed as 'the saviour of Munster'.

It is part of the deal that he is in Limerick as an agent for change, to bring back the glory days.

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