Byrne predicts a Leinster backlash after Rec 'howlers'
Published 15/12/2011 | 05:00
IF there has been one dominant theme in the build-up to Leinster's Heineken Cup rematch with Bath at Lansdowne Road on Saturday, it has been the need for accuracy.
Last weekend's profligacy at The Rec has ensured as much, with Leinster making a hash of at least three try-scoring opportunities before grinding out an 18-13 victory.
Over the course of 15 years with Leinster and 41 caps for Ireland, this is an area with which Shane Byrne is very familiar, as he was a hooker defined by the accuracy of his line-out throwing.
And while Byrne believes the missed opportunities against Bath were "outrageous" for a team of Leinster's quality, he is backing the European champions to respond in style this weekend.
"That game was all about missed opportunities," said Byrne. "Every time Leinster got any kind of decent ball, they made breaks and made huge ground, like they normally do, but unfortunately they couldn't put anything away and there were some absolute howlers.
"With Leinster, you might get one of them in a game, but for there to be three or four was outrageous, given their standards over the past few years. Sean O'Brien, (Rob) Kearney, (Jonathan) Sexton, they all threw away not just good chances, but definite chances.
"Ultimately you just look at it as getting it out of the system. The record books will show that it was an away win, so who gives a damn as to how it came about?
"Those guys wouldn't be able to give you an answer as to why they did what they did. Sean O'Brien would never do that again, Kearney as well, going for the inside instead of the outside, totally uncharacteristic.
"Luke (Fitzgerald) could also have just put his ears back when he got that run in the first half because (Jamie) Heaslip was always tracking on the inside. So many chances missed, they can't do that again and, in all likelihood, they won't.
"But it will be a great focus for this week. They won't be getting carried away with that win -- they can't afford to. Bath had an unbelievable amount of possession without ever really producing too much with it.
"Saturday is going to be another great European occasion. Leinster are pulling huge crowds and you would fully expect them to do what is expected of them and dispel any notion that they might be slipping."
Leinster have been developing significant strength in depth under Joe Schmidt, not least at hooker, where Byrne has been impressed by Sean Cronin since he joined from Connacht to contest the No 2 jersey with Richardt Strauss.
"I like Cronin," said Byrne. "When he joined, it was one of those decisions when you wondered was it wise because of how Strauss had been playing.
"Cronin is an unbelievable ball carrier and there is great explosiveness to the way he plays. Strauss is a good carrier too, but more straightforward, the hard yards. I think the perception with Cronin is that his line-out throwing isn't quite there yet, so it's going to be a ding-dong battle right the way through the season."
South Africa-born Strauss will qualify for Ireland next year and while Byrne (whose international career was held back in the late 1990s by New Zealander Ross Nesdale's brief spell with Ireland) believes the emphasis should be on producing home-grown players, he has no problem with 'project' players representing the country after putting in three years.
"We have one of the smallest playing pools of the senior rugby countries. Home-grown talent first but if a guy does become naturalised I have no issue."
As for Leinster, Byrne is convinced the province is on a steady upward graph.
"Leinster's underage structure has been very good. They have the young players coming through. No longer is there a massive step down from the senior guys to the rest, we have young guys now who are confident and the way the Irish season is structured, there is game time there as well. Leinster have got it right over the last few years."
Something they will be determined to do once more against Bath on Saturday.