Wednesday 20 September 2017

The Big Interview: Blues out-half Byrne preparing to take next step

A solid start from play and from the tee this season has put kicker in a good place as Leinster prepare to take on the Kings

Ross Byrne getting his kick away under pressure against Cardiff Blues. Photo: SPORTSFILE
Ross Byrne getting his kick away under pressure against Cardiff Blues. Photo: SPORTSFILE

Marcus Ó Buachalla

There is 73 minutes on the clock in the RDS Arena of a Friday evening. The Cardiff Blues are reeling. The RDS faithful are celebrating as the TV replays flash on the two big screens.

Barry Daly is just after scoring a try with some hang-time that Michael Jordan would be proud of and Dave Kearney runs on to the pitch with a kicking tee and a water bottle. Waiting for him patiently is Leinster out-half Ross Byrne. Suddenly, the clock strikes 74 and the patience is gone. Byrne takes it from here.

"I was just conscious that we had just scored our third try and we had time left in the game where the bonus point was on, so I suppose out the window goes your usual technique and you just hit it.

"Well the technique stays the same but you rush all the components and it was a case of striking it as well as I could."

It may sound rushed and haphazard but it was anything but, and was another example of the 'no stone left unturned' approach of Byrne and the rest of the Leinster squad and coaches.

"It's actually something that I practice. Trying to execute penalties under pressure but also under time pressure. So it's something that I do go through quite regularly at our kicking sessions with Emmet Farrell, our kicking coach.

Ross Byrne in action during training. Photo: SPORTSFILE
Ross Byrne in action during training. Photo: SPORTSFILE

"Can I execute my technique under pressure and in different circumstances, whether that is players rushing at you for a conversion or when we want to take a penalty or a conversion quickly so that we have time to go again."

The strike, while under time pressure, was as sweet as any he delivered that night and the stats made for impressive reading as he hit seven from nine for his best outing yet from the tee in Leinster colours.

There were the seven conversions against the Dragons in February of last season for a haul of 14 but this was his second game of the season in control of the tee, whereas last season it was often passed to Isa Nacewa.

Happy

Leinster’s Ross Byrne arrives at OR Tambo Airport in Johannesburg. Photo: SPORTSFILE
Leinster’s Ross Byrne arrives at OR Tambo Airport in Johannesburg. Photo: SPORTSFILE

Happy with his kicking?

"To be honest, while the seven from nine might sound OK, I actually hit the post twice, one went over and one went wide. And then it really should have been eight or nine out of nine because the other one I just shouldn't be missing.

"So I'm getting there, it is something that I really enjoy and we are all putting great work into it at the moment and I think all of us kickers are going well. Whoever is handed the responsibility will do the job."

The talk of the nine from nine is another indication of the man and the out-half Byrne wants to be. A perfectionist. But Friday was anything but. There were two missed kicks but it was more than that. The team failed to fire in the opening half especially.

So how does a 22-year-old out-half deal with those games when the momentum and the energy is with the opposition?

"I actually don't think age has anything to do with it, although of course the older you get the more experienced you become and you've seen more and more situations.

"As an out-half that is the level of pressure that is on you. The team look to you. I enjoy that pressure and the players looking to you for that guidance. On Friday against Cardiff they came out very strong but I was off my game a bit and we were sloppy as a team but I think you saw in the second half a very different Leinster and then when we felt that the game was there to go after, I think we executed really well.

"Ten points from the ten on offer in the first two games is a really positive place to be. Yes, we have things that need to be better but if you had offered that to us at the start of the season, we'd have jumped at it.

"The nature of the new PRO14 means we have fewer home games so you have to make sure that the bonus points are got if they become available. Nothing is won in September but you can put yourself in a lot of difficulty."

Leinster have thus far played against familiar faces but over the next two weeks it is uncharted territory as they venture to South Africa to take on the Kings and the Cheetahs.

Unlike some of his colleagues, Byrne has yet to experience the physicality and skill that South African teams can deliver. With that in mind he is putting time into his homework on and off the pitch.

"A lot of video work this week all right. Looking at the Kings I think the main thing that they bring is that southern hemisphere approach to attack and when it's on, it's on and they go for it. We've seen that in the four games that they've played in the PRO14 to date, they can play and they can score. Both the Kings and the Cheetahs have pace and power and players from the sevens circuit who know how to exploit any loose play.

"If your defence is even off by a fraction they can do damage but we have to back ourselves in attack and in defence."

There is also the small matter of the altitude that will come their way next week against the Cheetahs. But that is then.

"The danger with this trip was that everyone was talking about it. Media, supporters but we couldn't lose focus for our first two games against Dragons and Cardiff. We did well to keep that focus on those games and now it's the same here, we can't look too far ahead, even to next week.

Altitude

"The S&C staff have advised us as best they can as to what to expect but we'll worry about altitude then. We've enough to be worrying about the Kings this week."

And after that the season stretches in front of Byrne, his first as a Leinster senior player having played 20 times in blue last season.

"I'm looking forward to it. I've enjoyed the pre-season, I feel I went well last season and I made progress and there were positives for me personally as well as collectively.

"But we set very high standards here at Leinster. I feel we're a tight group and I think we're enjoying our rugby but we'll enjoy it so much more if we win silverware and we are very determined to do everything we can this season to make sure we address that."

Nothing won in September maybe, but they're laying the foundations now on the field and off the field, for what might come in May.

Irish Independent

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