Talks are ongoing between Leinster and the IRFU about the versatile back moving to the Kingspan Stadium and RugbyPass understands that Schmidt met Carbery in a Dublin cafe over the weekend.
The meeting suggests that the Ireland head coach is ramping up pressure in an attempt to convince the 22-year-old to leave Leinster due to concerns over his game-time at outhalf with a World Cup a little over a year away.
Carbery acted as back-up to Johnny Sexton throughout the 2018 Natwest 6 Nations, coming off the bench in four matches, accumulating a little over an hour on the pitch – 30 minutes against Italy, four minutes against Wales, eight minutes against Scotland and a first-half HIA assessment replacement for Sexton against England, followed by the last 16 minutes at Twickenham.
He featured off the bench against South Africa in November and made one start, against Fiji in a 23-20 win, before going off with a wrist injury. That ended hopes of Carbery getting game-time at 10 for Leinster during the busy Christmas period.
In fact, Carbery has played 12 times for Leinster this season and of his nine starts, only one has come at flyhalf. It was a match to forget as Leinster fell to a shock 17-15 home defeat to Benetton – the first time Leinster had lost in Dublin to an Italian opponent.
Ross Byrne is Leo Cullen’s preferred choice at 10 when Sexton isn’t available, signified by the fact he started 18 times in the position this season. Academy product Ciaran Frawley has also appeared since the turn of the year; the 20-year-old starting against the Kings in the Pro14 in February and has made two other appearances off the bench.
Schmidt has invested a lot of time in Carbery and with Paddy Jackson now definitely out of the international picture following his contract termination, the New Zealander needs the Auckland born flyhalf to fill the gap left by the latter’s departure.
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Carbery clearly has a strong mentality illustrated by the fact Schmidt felt comfortable to throw him on against New Zealand in Chicago for his Test debut in the 40-29 win. But game management at flyhalf for a full 80 minutes is different. Those matches at 10 against Fiji and Benetton this season were hardly standout performances from Carbery, albeit Ireland and Leinster respectively did not have full-strength sides on display. However, the flyhalf position is key to any sides chances of success and Carbery failed to take those matches by the scruff of the neck. During his 30 minutes against Italy Ireland unraveled somewhat, allowing the Azzurri to score three late tries. A few days after that match Andy Farrell, Ireland’s defence coach, fired a word of warning to the younger crop within the set-up.
“The last quarter wasn’t acceptable because average is not acceptable in this environment. We need to be more ruthless in that and learn to play even when the scoreboard is well in our favour to be ruthless. The players know that and some young lads who hadn’t got vast amounts of experience might have been getting carried away with themselves a little bit. To knock off, you can talk about any technicalities you want – to have a lack of intent was not acceptable.”
Ulster are eager to fill a void at 10 following Jackson’s departure and there is no reason why Carbery could not spend a year with Ulster, giving him a full season before the 2019 World Cup, an arrangement that would suit both parties. Ulster would get little out of him at the start of the 2019/20 season anyway, as Ireland would be due to break into camp over the summer and warm-up matches normally take place in August, followed by the tournament itself, meaning he might not be available until December under the IRFU’s player-management programme.
Ulster’s Director of Rugby Bryn Cunningham is keen to get a deal done.
Speaking in the aftermath of his side’s 24-24 draw at Munster on Saturday he said “At the moment the IRFU are working in that area with Leinster around that 10 scenario. We are not really involved in that. There are two sides to anybody moving within the Irish system. There’s what’s right for the player and him wanting to go and get more game time. On things like that, it’s a little bit outside our control. We will just sit back and see what the outcome of that is.”
“In something like that it’s very much just a decision that’s taken from the player whenever the IRFU has got involved in it. They have looked at it and decided that there are guys there (who) are probably the top three of the four 10s in Irish rugby. They have said it might be more beneficial if one of them was playing elsewhere.
“It’s not really for us to go and initiate that conversation. We have to respect that the players may be in a different place. And they decided that they want to stay where they are.”
“For us it’s more about if a player shows a genuine interest and the player is very keen and the player then wants to speak to the province. That’s whenever we would come to the fore and try and convince him that Ulster is a good place to come.”
Schmidt will be hoping his powers of persuasion over a weekend coffee with Carbery will help get the deal over the line.
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