Carbery’s masterclass the standout on good weekend for Kildare’s rugby stars
By Daire Walsh
JOEY Carbery stole the show once again for Munster at the Kingsholm Stadium on Friday evening by amassing an astounding personal haul of 26 points in the province’s Pool Two demolition of a hapless Gloucester.
The latest barnstorming display from the Athy man not only garnered him the player of the match award for the second time in six days – he was also honoured for his impressive performance away to Connacht in the Guinness PRO14 – it also places Johann van Graan’s side on the cusp of qualification for the Champions Cup knockout rounds.
Following his erratic return rate off the kicking tee in a round four defeat to Castres, Carbery’s mental resolve was severely tested. However, his response to that set-back has been emphatic, with 17 successive strikes at goal propelling Munster to the top of their domestic and European sections in consummate style.
Despite contributing two tries, two penalties and five conversions on the night, Carbery cut a modest figure in his post-match interview with BT Sport.
“I’m obviously delighted, but what makes me more happy is the scoreboard. We worked hard during the week and we put a few things into place,” Carbery acknowledged.
“We’re just so happy that we could come out and do it tonight. A huge credit to the coaches and the team for how we prepared for this.”
While team-mate CJ Stander heaped praise on Carbery and half-back partner Conor Murray for the way they exploited the frail Gloucester defensive system, the Ardscoil na Trionoide alum believes the dominance of the Munster pack provided the platform for a bonus-point triumph.
“Everything we do comes from them. If they don’t give us a platform then we have nothing to go from. I think it was a huge team performance tonight and we’re obviously stoked for one more big week,” Carbery added.
Indeed, with the gap between themselves and Exeter Chiefs standing at just four points, Munster have a considerable task on their hands this coming weekend. The two sides meet at Thomond Park on Saturday, and if their 10-10 stalemate at Sandy Park in round one is anything to go by, space will be at a premium in the famous Limerick arena.
Whereas the established trio of Rory Scannell, Keith Earls and Andrew Conway also got their names on the scoresheet, it is understandable that Carbery’s haul stole the headlines in Saturday’s papers. Eadestown’s Tadhg Beirne has also enjoyed a seamless transition into the Munster set-up and he is building a formidable second-row partnership with Jean Kleyn.
An injury to Peter O’Mahony saw Beirne finishing the game in the Reds’ back-row and he was subsequently joined by another Kildare native in the form of Jeremy Loughman.
The Athy-raised loosehead prop made his ninth senior appearance of the campaign – deputising for Irish international Dave Kilcoyne in the closing-quarter. Though his role in the squad is more understated than the ones Carbery and Beirne have been entrusted with, he is becoming a vital cog in Van Graan’s well-oiled machine.
Kill’s Adam Byrne also picked up his ninth cap of 2018/19 at the RDS on Saturday and marked it with a bonus-point try in Leinster’s 29-13 success over Toulouse. In the absence of Rob Kearney and James Lowe, Byrne and Dave Kearney were presented with ideal opportunities to prove their continued worth to the Blues’ cause.
They took full advantage of their respective recalls to the starting line-up, registering second-half tries to lift Leinster to the summit of the Champions Cup Pool One table. Kearney’s five-pointer was particularly eye-catching as he was picked out on the left-wing by Ross Byrne’s sublimely-weighted cross-field pass.
With Jonathan Sexton joining Rob Kearney, James Lowe and Robbie Henshaw on the treatment table, this was a big test of Ross Byrne’s credentials. A couple of wayward manoeuvres not withstanding, he passed the examination with flying colours.
Before making hay on the restart, Leinster required a Jack Conan try to create a 10-6 interval cushion. They gained the maximum total of five points in the end and now move forward to an away trip against Wasps on Sunday knowing that a win of any description will guarantee top spot for the defending champions.
Meanwhile, James Connolly (Naas) played the full 80 minutes in Connacht’s crucial 20-18 win at the expense of Sale Sharks in the Challenge Cup at the Sportsground in Galway on Saturday afternoon.
In contrast to his solitary appearance in the PRO14, Connolly was lining out in Europe for the fifth time this season. This result puts Connacht level on points (17) with Sale moving into the final round of fixtures – albeit Andy Friend’s men trail the English Premiership outfit on score difference.