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I've grown, but there's much more to come, says Ireland's Carbery

 

By Jonathan Bradley

With this November series falling directly between the World Cups of 2015 and 2019, perhaps no position better highlights the balancing act required by Ireland's Joe Schmidt than his choice of full-back.

With Rob Kearney having returned to action against Ulster two weeks ago, the head coach has the option of going for the tried and tested, a two-time Lion who has been a stalwart for the Kiwi going back to his days with Leinster.

Counting against the 31-year-old as attention turns more and more towards 2019, however, are age and the injury concerns that have blighted his recent seasons.

With Simon Zebo now on the outside looking in thanks to his upcoming end-of-season move to France, the most likely heir apparent in Ireland's last line of defence seems to be the same man who held down the fort for Leinster during Kearney's most recent spell on the sidelines - Joey Carbery.

While three of the youngster's four caps so far have come at out-half, after a difficult day with the boot in his last outing against the USA, all six of his games at provincial level this year have been in the 15 jersey, the same total he reached last season in the position.

Having turned 22 just seven days ago, the native Kiwi still has a lot to learn, and indeed continues to hold a preference for playing 10 in the future, but has shown plenty that augurs well for the future since being pressed into an international debut against none other than the All Blacks a year ago last week.

"It came pretty quickly when you look back on everything that has happened since," he reflected at Ireland's training base of Carton House yesterday.

"Obviously there was my first game and the build-up all around that. I was pretty excited more so than anything else. Coming on with 20 minutes to go, I had Jamie (Heaslip) saying, 'Relax, take your time'.

"It was good to have all the players around me who could give me that little bit of advice in my ear and cool everything down, that was very helpful.

"I still have to pinch myself about it, it is a bit of a whirlwind to be honest.

"Playing for Ireland, and against the All Blacks as well, that was something I always wanted to do, but for it to happen that quickly obviously wasn't expected.

"It has been pretty crazy, time flies I suppose. You have to make sure you are enjoying it as you go."

Ahead of tomorrow's team announcement for Saturday's Aviva Stadium clash with the Springboks, Carbery believes he has done plenty of growing over the last 12 months.

"I'm feeling a bit wiser, feeling my age on the training pitch. It's been good, things are looking pretty bright at the moment," he said. "We have a few exciting weeks ahead, I'm pretty keen to see what happens.

"I want to keep building on this and hopefully in the next few years there will be more caps and I'll improve as an individual and the team will as well.

"The team we have is incredible, so I suppose reaching our potential and how we get to do it is what we will find out.

"I definitely think I have matured both mentally and physically, I'm a bit wiser as well.

"During the heat of a game, everything can happen, some completely crazy phenomenon, so just being able to deal with it, bringing my mind back to a controlled state is something that takes a bit of time, and mindfulness is a big thing in that as well.

"You get better as you get on with it and I feel that's something that has improved.

"The coaches have us well prepared in training, they go through every scenario so if one player gets injured, you fill in here, and you almost have to know everyone's role in case you do need to.

"I feel the pressure put on us in training really helps us adapt when it comes to games."

Meanwhile, South Africa head coach Allister Coetzee yesterday branded the Ireland team he'll face this weekend as the All Blacks of Europe.

Considering Coetzee has witnessed his side being pummelled 57-0 by the back-to-back World champions in the not too distant past, he is sure his men will need to be at their best in a first meeting between the pair since the summer of 2016.

"For us it's important because we have a huge respect for Ireland," he said. "They are a quality side, and it's almost close to your All Blacks side in Europe.

"They have a great coaching staff. Joe is a great guy, a really good coach, and (Andy) Farrell, his defence coach, is really astute, so we've got to be at our best. We want to see constant improvement and the things we've done well, we've got to keep like that and also improve the other things."

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