Has Ireland found Sexton's successor?
SPOTLIGHT: Joey Carbery’s assured display in guiding Ireland over the line in their impressive 29-20 victory over New Zealand was a huge bonus for head coach Andy Farrell and the team’s supporters.
The 26-year-old playmaker has long been seen as talisman Johnny Sexton’s natural successor.
However, two years of misery due to an ankle injury restricting him to four Test appearances cast doubt on whether he would fulfil those predictions.
In his absence, Ulster’s Billy Burns and Sexton’s Leinster teammate Ross Byrne have been given a chance.
However, it has been Carbery and Byrne’s younger brother Harry who have been selected as Sexton’s back-up for the November Tests.
Carbery – 10 years younger than Sexton – could well start the final Test of the year against Argentina on Sunday, as the Irish seek to make it eight wins on the bounce.
Sexton came off with 15 minutes remaining on Saturday due to a sore knee, which he had twisted in the first-half, and with the game evenly balanced at 20-17 despite the Irish dominating.
He left Carbery the immediate task of taking a penalty which he kicked with aplomb and then landed two more – including a massive 50-metre attempt to give the hosts the breathing space they required.
“Such a tough Test match, to come on with a little bit to do and pretty happy with how it went,” said Carbery.
“I was just trying to stay as calm.”
Sexton – whose number one status at Leinster prompted Carbery to up sticks and move to rivals Munster in 2018 – was the first to congratulate his understudy.
“Obviously a special word for Joey, to come on and kick three good goals,” said Sexton.
“He’s been out for so long and I was chuffed for him.”
Carbery says it is tough to compete against Sexton, who perhaps sparked by being omitted from the British & Irish Lions squad this year, is playing better than ever.
“It’s tough [being back up], especially when he’s [Sexton] playing well in week in, week out,” he said.
“But all I can do is train, improve myself, get better each week and see where that brings me.
“I think anyone would want to (start more) but I haven’t been available through injury for the last two years for the Six Nations games.”
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‘An attacking threat’
Carbery, capped 26 times since making his debut against New Zealand in 2016, says he and Sexton are different types of people and players but he can still learn from the Irish captain.
“I suppose if I can pick little bits and add it to my game, I’ll be in a good place,” said Carbery.
Carbery, born in New Zealand but whose parents returned to Ireland when he was 11, says if all goes well he feels he can one day step fully into Sexton’s boots.
“If the team needs me to do it, I’m more than happy to step in,” he said.
“If I keep working on my game and taking little bits from Johnny and keep improving and stay injury-free then hopefully I will be in a good place.
“And, if the time comes, I’ll be happy to step up.”
Carbery, who said he received several congratulatory text messages from his two grandparents and three aunts back in New Zealand, has many admirers, none more so than Irish legend Brian O’Driscoll.
“There are definitely aspects of his game to get excited about,” O’Driscoll told Off The Ball podcast in September.
“He’s an attacking threat like I don’t think we have in other No.10s across the board, including Johnny Sexton.
“He’s a completely different attacking type of player than Johnny Sexton.”