ISA NACEWA COULD never be accused of clogging up Leinster’s attacking structures. But during his absence over the last two months the eastern province have gotten along just fine without the skipper.
You know the numbers by now (a few key ones here if you really want a refresher), so let’s just say the academy kids barely put a foot wrong during the Six Nations window.
Nacewa returns as Leinster begin a block of games to shape their season by facing Cardiff Blues at the RDS this afternoon (3pm, Sky Sports 2). Yet even with Rob Kearney out for at least a month, Nacewa is not in the position where he has been most effective for Leinster.
That role is taken by another outrageously talented utility back with Auckland in his veins.
“Ah Joey’s great,” Nacewa says with an instant warmth when the name Carbery is mentioned.
“He’s had international experience for the last seven months, and a different environment too, so he’s learning along the way. He’s learned from Irish camp, he brings those eyes and ears back into Leinster.
“He’s a threat, he’s always fun to play with.”
The two men are a generation apart, but even just by Nacewa’s description, the pair have more than just a Kiwi upbringing in common.
Carbery excelled in the number 10 shirt for his province early this season, and his sheer unflappability was a something to behold in Chicago. However, with Ross Byrne also in terrific form ahead of the last two Pro12 fixtures, Leo Cullen has opted to use the Athy man’s skill-set elsewhere on the field. To devastating effect.
For some, it can be difficult to settle in a team when the position and the role changes from one game to another. But nobody smooths that process over quite like Nacewa, and he has no fears that Carbery can thrive at fullback, where there is often more time and space to impose creativity upon a game.
“Joey’s class, he really is. He works really hard on his game, he works hard in the analysis room, he’s learning as he goes and he takes it all in his stride.
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“It’s very hard to frazzle Joey, he just gets on with it, and that’s probably why he’s so exciting out on the rugby field and so much fun to play with.”
While Nacewa can look forward to fun (hopefully in the sun) with Carbery and the other fresh faces in the Leinster back-line this afternoon, Kearney and Jamie Heaslip will be out for a big chunk of what remains of the season. Cullen was hesitant to put a time-frame on the latter’s return; a combination of the complicated nature of the spine and the utter rarity of seeing the freakishly resilient number eight injured.
“I think it’s (the) first surgery that he’s ever had,” said Cullen.
“He’s unbelievably resilient and a great pro, Jamie, so if anyone could turn around an injury quickly, it’s likely to be him.
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15. Joey Carbery
14. Adam Byrne
13. Rory O’Loughlin
12. Noel Reid
11. Isa Nacewa (Capt)
10. Ross Byrne
9. Luke McGrath