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Joey Carbery opens up on his healthy but competitive relationship with Johnny Sexton

Joey Carbery

While Johnny Sexton will remain as Ireland’s first-choice fly-half for the time being, Joey Carbery certainly didn’t do his chances any harm against France.

Ireland were unable to beat France on Saturday in a thrilling Six Nations encounter, although Carbery stepped up admirably to fill the sizeable shoes left by Sexton’s absence.

Carbery marshalled Ireland’s attack well, put in a strong defensive performance in making nine tackles and had a perfect evening from the kicking tee, as Andy Farrell’s side ultimately fell to a narrow six-point loss to Les Bleus.

Sexton is Carbery’s captain at Ireland, and was also his mentor for several years when both men played for Leinster, although the 26-year-old is aiming to ultimately succeed the veteran fly-half in becoming his country’s first-choice number 10.

Carbery was speaking as a Tackle Your Feelings ambassador and insisted that competition between himself and Sexton can only be a good thing for Ireland moving forward.

Joey Carbery on Johnny Sexton and his leadership skills.

“I think if you look at it like that it’s tough, but the way I look at it is just trying to put Ireland first. We both put our best foot forward and if we can go out there and play to the best of our potential, then I think Ireland will be the main winner,” Carbery said.

“In the environment we’re in that’s the main thing. It’s obvious that we both want the same jersey, but the relationship is good. It’s not negative and there are a lot of positives from it.

“It’s a bit of a compliment to be always compared to him, or to be in the same conversation. Personally, I’m trying to get better from it and see where it brings me.”

Sexton is more than just a fly-half of course, as he assumes the role of his country’s primary leader and Carbery is aiming to follow in his captain’s footsteps by developing his leadership skills.

“A lot of work to be done still, but I feel like I’m getting a lot better. It comes back to getting the game time and getting the experience in the games, and being able to physically do it,” Carbery explained.

“Then it’s about having conversations with coaches about certain teams, sometimes it’s not even leading by what you say, it’s about body language and actions. There’s so much to learn about it and Johnny is very good at.

“It’s something I can watch back in training, watch back in games and add to my game because at 10 you’re in quite a pivotal position to control guys around you. The more assertive I can be, it helps the guys around me.”

Stepping into the Irish 10 jersey.

Carbery wouldn’t have expected to start against France at the start of the week, as Sexton played very well against Wales and came through that game unscathed, before injuring his hamstring in training.

Sexton pulled up on the Wednesday, so Carbery only had three days to mentally prepare himself for a start in Paris, while head coach Andy Farrell also would have needed to adjust his plans.

Ireland have played with a distinct fast-paced, attacking style since the Autumn Nations Series, which Sexton has been a key part of, although Carbery was confident in playing to his own strengths against France rather than attempting to mimic his captain.

“Something that Andy normally says is, ‘Go out and be yourself and do your job.’ I went out and tried to play it the way I do,” Carbery said.

“Obviously we have a pretty good system in place and it accounts for different people coming in and out and there’s so many different options.

“I’m pretty lucky to have such good players inside and outside me and obviously having forwards who can see the space and can take the space as well as we do. It’s a massive bonus for me, it makes my job a lot easier.”

Since Ireland unveiled their new exciting style of play, Jamison Gibson-Park has normally partnered Sexton in the half-backs, while Carbery has mostly played with Conor Murray, with both men having started against Argentina, while they often finish out games together.

Carbery started alongside Gibson-Park at scrum-half at the Stade de France, something he hasn’t done since Ireland played Japan last July, but he had no worries about partnering the Leinster scrum-half.

“I would have played with him a good bit for Leinster and then played against him for Japan, but during training we’re swapping in a lot, nines and tens. So you get to play with them all,” Carbery explained.

“Our training is so competitive, it’s at such a good standard that you can get to know people and how they play. I would have been comfortable playing with him.”

Touring New Zealand in July.

While the Six Nations will be Carbery’s and Ireland’s main priority in the weeks to come, a massive challenge awaits in July when Farrell’s side travel to New Zealand to take on the All Blacks in a three-match test series.

The tour will hold added significance for Carbery, who was born and raised in New Zealand until he was 11 years old, before moving to his parent’s native Athy in County Kildare.

It has been almost four years since Carbery was last back in New Zealand, and the 26-year-old admitted that he was very excited to have the opportunity to return to the country of his birth.

“The last time [I was in New Zealand], I think it was 2018 after the Australia tour. It’s something I’m really looking forward to, obviously rugby-wise, but then personally to see some family as well,” Carbery said.

“It’s been a while because of Covid and everything like that that we haven’t been able to go and see them. So it’ll be great to go over and see them and obviously rugby-wise it’ll be great to go over and test ourselves against them.”

Carbery, who was an avid Blues supporter while growing up in Dargaville, said that he would like to live in New Zealand again some day, as well as maybe play in Super Rugby, although he has no current plans to do so.

“It’s something I definitely would like to do but at the moment I can’t see that happening,” Carbery admitted.

“I’m very happy where I am and I suppose I want to keep playing for Ireland for as long as I possibly can. So that’s my thoughts now but it does like quite nice to be playing down there. Sure we’ll see where it goes.”

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