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Irish Independent
Irish Independent
Cian Tracey

Axed Joey Carbery will need to show Andy Farrell he can bounce back

Joey Carbery's future as an Ireland player hangs in the balance as he has fallen behind in the pecking order. Photo: Sportsfile

Joey Carbery trained with Munster on Wednesday afternoon, and from our vantage point in one of Thomond Park’s corporate boxes, he didn’t look like a man who was carrying the weight of the world on his shoulders.

We don’t know if he had received the dreaded phone call from Andy Farrell at that stage, but it certainly didn’t seem like it.

Munster trained under the watchful eye of Ireland scrum coach John Fogarty, and while it’s not his job to break bad selection news to players, he would have been fully aware of Farrell’s Six Nations plans.

As Farrell enters his fourth full season as Ireland head coach, he can’t have made many more tougher decisions than deciding that now, less than eight months out from the start of the World Cup, is the right time to drop Carbery from his squad.

Just as Joe Schmidt did, Farrell has invested a huge amount of time in Carbery as Johnny Sexton’s back-up.

Curiously, there have been times in the past, notably when Carbery was working his way back from a nightmare spell out with a bad ankle injury, there were justifiable claims for him to miss out on selection.

Yet, like Schmidt, as long as he was fit, Farrell always picked Carbery in his squad.

That’s what will make the timing of Farrell’s bombshell all the more tough for Carbery to stomach because while his form of late may not be sensational, it certainly hasn’t been terrible.

Farrell has a reputation as being a loyal selector, as is seen by him sticking by the likes of Conor Murray, Keith Earls and Jacob Stockdale. But somewhere along the way, Carbery has fallen down the pecking order.

Throughout his time as Ireland boss, Farrell hasn’t been afraid to make big calls, and his success in doing so, means he has earned the right to do things his way.

This ruthless side of the Wigan native is something we began to see more of towards the end of last year.

Joey Carbery, right, with Ireland head coach Andy Farrell in 2021.

Having reinvigorated Camp Ireland by releasing the shackles behind the scenes, several players on the fringes felt Farrell’s wrath last November, when they paid the price for underperforming for Ireland ‘A’ in the defeat to the All Blacks XV.

Gavin Coombes was one such player, and his response to being dropped for the autumn internationals has been so emphatic that he has worked his way back in on merit at the first time of asking.

Carbery now finds himself in a similar situation, but as the World Cup looms large, the 27-year-old knows his place on the plane to France is in serious jeopardy.

From that end, Carbery has reached a crossroads in his career, as he watches his Munster deputy Jack Crowley (23), and his former Leinster rival Ross Byrne (27) leapfrog him in the ranks.

Going on recent form, no one could begrudge Byrne’s place in the squad, while Crowley has played most of his recent rugby at inside centre.

Crowley’s star has been on the rise for some time, and his arrival would have happened sooner, had Johann van Graan not preferred Ben Healy when he was in charge of Munster.

The Bandon man is making up for lost time, and Graham Rowntree has not hesitated in looking for Crowley to close out games in place of Carbery, which has been telling.

Speaking of Healy, a penny for his thoughts as he gets set to link up with the Scotland squad ahead of his move to Edinburgh next season.

Carbery’s axing by Ireland is a timely reminder of how quickly the picture can change in the race to become Sexton’s successor.

Rowntree faces a big decision for Sunday’s trip to Toulouse, as he weighs up whether to stick with Carbery or give Crowley a start at ‘10’, assuming the latter has recovered from an ankle knock.

Dropping Carbery would make an already tough week even worse, and with his confidence having taken a major hit, it would be a surprise to see Rowntree double down on it by leaving him out of the team to take on the Top 14 leaders.

Farrell places a lot of stock in players who have delivered for him in the past, and although Ireland lost in Paris in last year’s Six Nations, Carbery came in for plenty of praise for how he handled the occasion. He also saw out both of Ireland’s historic Test wins in New Zealand last summer.

In November, his involvement was ended by a high tackle in the win over Fiji, which paved the way for Crowley to make his Test debut, before he started the following weekend against Australia. Little did Carbery know then that it would prove to be a real sliding doors moment.

For all of the bitter disappointment that he will be feeling, this is by no means the end of Carbery. Farrell will hope that his omission gives him the a wake-up call to become more of a vocal and assertive presence.

Being dropped at this stage of a World Cup cycle is a massive blow, but Carbery will know that the door can quickly reopen through injury.

That’s not a position he envisaged finding himself in as he led Munster in training earlier this week, but Carbery is good enough to bounce back from this unforeseen setback.

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