Sunday 23 October 2016

Opportunity knocks for young Leinster out-halves

Published 07/01/2016 | 02:30

Ross Byrne, left, and Cathal Marsh
Ross Byrne, left, and Cathal Marsh
Leinster's Jonathan Sexton. Photo: Seb Daly / Sportsfile

Leinster face some tough decisions over the coming months and chief amongst those will be whether to replace the departing Ian Madigan or instead, promote someone from within.

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When Johnny Sexton left for his French sojourn, Jimmy Gopperth was drafted in, but with two promising, home-grown youngsters in their ranks, Leo Cullen may well be tempted to show faith in them.

Cathal Marsh (23) and Ross Byrne (20) have both long been tipped as future Leinster out-halves and there are few better to learn from than Sexton.

Madigan's departure, however, comes as a result of his failure to secure more game-time in his preferred No 10 role but given the age difference, time is on the side of Marsh and Byrne in particular.

Backs coach and former Academy manager Girvan Dempsey has worked closely with both players but he has been around the game long enough to know that it is important to strike the right balance between the younger players and more experienced imports.

"I think that's always the way, it's the way the IRFU look at it as well because we look at the home-grown players and what opportunities they have to progress," Dempsey explained.


"You're constantly evaluating that compared to what foreigners or internationals are out there that can add value in other ways.

"I've cited on numerous occasions the impact the likes of Felipe Contepomi, Isa Nacewa, Rocky Elsom, Brad Thorn have had, and the influence they have on the younger players and the broader playing group is just brilliant.

"It's a balancing act between the IRFU and the provinces to ensure it's done correctly.

"Constantly the coaches and the management team are looking at the make-up of the squad and constantly looking at how we can add value to it going forward. We'd be always looking at where we can improve the squad in the future."

Marsh has made four Pro12 starts this season (including a try against Dragons in October) with two further appearances from the bench, while Byrne has started one game and featured twice as a substitute.

With Sexton and Madigan both set to be involved in Ireland's upcoming Six Nations campaign, Dempsey is anticipating further opportunities for both protégés.

"Cathal went really well for us during that World Cup period and Ross Byrne was in and out, he performed really well for B&I. But the two of them, yeah, we'll be looking at them during that period," he said.

Meanwhile, Fergus McFadden has been suspended for three weeks for stamping during last weekend's win over Connacht.

Irish Independent

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