Sunday 17 February 2019

The Carbery conundrum: Star weighs up pros and cons of move to Ulster


Joey Carbery is moving to Munster
Joey Carbery is moving to Munster

Joey Carbery's head must be spinning.

The Leinster full-back and Ireland out-half could be 'The Poster Boy' for the IRFU's player movement policy.

All he has to do is agree to leave the European Cup finalists and move to a province which Brian O'Driscoll described last week as "a basket case".

It would give Carbery guaranteed regular game time in his favourite position in the 10 jersey and go a long way towards ensuring his seat on the plane to the 2019 Rugby World Cup.

He would also risk not being involved in the Champions Cup next season as Ulster and Ospreys will battle it out for the last qualification place out of the PRO14 League on the same weekend as Leinster play Racing 92 in Bilbao.

In normal circumstances, it would be wonderful to be wanted by Stuart Lancaster and Joe Schmidt.

The problem is the Leinster senior coach and head coach Leo Cullen want to establish Carbery as a full-back, whereas Schmidt's opinion has never wavered from identifying the 22 year-old as an out-half for Ireland's future.


When Leo Cullen was rushed into the head coach role from just one season as a forwards coach, the former captain realised on conclusion of his first term in charge he had too many questions and not enough answers.

The contracting of Graham Henry as a consultant to Leinster in the summer of 2016 brought clarity around a number of issues.

There was even a comment attributed to Henry about how Leinster should build their programme around the skills of Carbery - as an out-half.

He began the 2016-2017 season at out-half against Benetton Treviso in the same week it was confirmed Stuart Lancaster had joined the club as senior coach.

For a while, Carbery continued at the controls, making all eight of his starts at out-half, including Champions Cup outings against Castres Olympique and Northampton Saints. All the while, Lancaster was not convinced about anointing Carbery as Jonathan Sexton's natural successor.

The seeds for the current impasse were first sown in late February 2017 when Carbery wore the number fifteen shirt for the first time against The Dragons.

From there on, there were six starts at full-back, including Champions Cup action against Wasps in the quarter-final and Clermont Auvergne in the semi.

This season, Carbery has made eight of his nine starts at full-back, the most recent coming on Saturday in The Sportsground.

So, there are discussions taking place on an ongoing basis as evidenced by a recent meeting between the player and Ireland coach Joe Schmidt.

However, Ulster are in something of a bind. They need to know the outcome of the proposed move as their roster shows Johnny McPhillips stands alone as a legitimate senior out-half.

You would have thought the confirmation of Dan McFarland as their head coach on a three-year contract yesterday would go some way towards providing stability.

"Dan was our number one candidate so we're obviously very happy to have secured his services for the next three years," said Ulster's rugby operations director, Bryn Cunningham.

"Dan's CV is hugely impressive and he commands great respect within the game.

"He enjoyed successful spells with Connacht and Glasgow, and the fact that Gregor brought him into the Scotland set-up speaks volumes for how highly he rates him," he added.

The fact the former Connacht and current Scotland forwards coach won't be in place until next January advertises the unpredictable nature of the province for the first half of next season.

However, Scotland's appointment of Carl Hogg, a former international back row, to assist McFarland on their summer tour might just speed up the timeframe for the arrival of Ulster's coach in Belfast.

If that were to come to fruition, it would make any decision by Carbery all the more informed.

He has recently reiterated his desire to remain at Leinster but the lure of regular first-team rugby may prove too good to turn down.

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