Joey Carbery, Jack Crowley or Ben Healy: Who should be Munster's alpha out-half?

Derek Daly looks at the situation at Thomond Park where the Reds have three good options for number 10
Joey Carbery, Jack Crowley or Ben Healy: Who should be Munster's alpha out-half?

Joey Carbery and Jack Crowley of Munster are competing for the top out-half slot. Picture: Seb Daly/Sportsfile

Munster’s out-half depth has probably never been this good. 

Joey Carbery, Jack Crowley and Ben Healy all offer genuine competition for the famous number 10 shirt. 

However, we are probably fast approaching a bottleneck situation where something has to give, as Munster coach Graham Rowntree simply will not be able to keep all three of them happy.

Crowley has recently committed to Munster until 2025, while Carbery is signed up to the province until at least 2024. However, Healy’s contract is up at the end of the season. As a number of new deals were announced in recent weeks, and with Healy not on the list, the expectation is that Munster are in real danger of losing the Tipperary out-half.

He was very much Munster’s number two option last season, with him at times possibly even being the top dog. This meant it was he that then head coach Johann van Graan turned to for the agonising penalty shootout defeat against Toulouse in the Heineken Champions Cup quarter-final.

He got game time early this year, starting in the defeats to Cardiff, the Dragons and Connacht, as well as the win over Zebre. Since that defeat in Galway in early October, however, he has been frozen out, getting just one bench appearance against Leinster in competitive action since. He did show everyone what he is capable of in the historic 28-14 win over South Africa A in Páirc Uí Chaoimh when he converted all four tries on the night but has been behind Carbery and Crowley in recent times.

Munster's Ben Healy takes his first kick. Picture: INPHO/Ben Brady
Munster's Ben Healy takes his first kick. Picture: INPHO/Ben Brady

Considering he is clearly a talented and ambitious out-half, and with Scotland sniffing around too, something will have to give on this score, sooner rather than later. If he does not sign a contract extension early in the New Year then we can conclude that he is in the process of moving on. Given that Munster lost another talented Tipp 10 in Jake Flannery in similar circumstances in the summer, it is a further blow, especially when you consider that Leinster seem able to keep all of Jonathan Sexton, Ross Byrne, Harry Byrne and Ciaran Frawley happy.

HARMONY

There are probably a couple of reasons for such harmony in Dublin 4. Firstly, there is a genuine expectation that they are going to win a lot of trophies, and everyone wants to be a part of that success, but possibly the most important factor is the presence of captain Jonathan Sexton.

Sexton is the undisputed alpha in the group and will remain so until he decides to hang up his own boots. 

The others are all extremely capable out-halves in their own right, but they are not Johnny. They are all aware of this and are happy with this arrangement. As Sexton’s game time is carefully managed these days they also know that there will be plenty of minutes to go around too. Everyone’s boat rises with Johnny Sexton’s tide.

In Munster it is different. Carbery travelled south ahead in 2018 because the above situation was not acceptable to an up-and-coming out-half. He needed more minutes. However, injuries and lack of form, coinciding with the arrival of a bunch of talented Ireland U20 out-halves at the exact same time mean that he has not grabbed the role of alpha in the way that Sexton has.

He is there to be shot at, meaning the challengers are not as accepting of reserve roles as they are at the RDS. For a side looking to make strides in the next year or two that can only be seen as a positive, but it also creates a bottleneck, as you cannot have three alphas.

Jack Crowley during a Munster Rugby squad training session at Thomond Park. Picture: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile
Jack Crowley during a Munster Rugby squad training session at Thomond Park. Picture: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile

Carbery is only 27, Healy is 23 and Crowley is still 22. The mix would have been better if the ages were spread out, to give a more master/apprentice vibe, but life doesn’t work like that – sometimes all your buses do come at once, and you have pick one to get on.

Their respective appearance records are a tad surprising. You’d expect Carbery to be way out in front, whereas in fact him and Healy both have 46 appearances for Munster, with Crowley having exactly half that number on 23.

Munster are fast approaching a situation where they may have to pass up on one of those buses, with Healy looking the most likely at this juncture.

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