Tuesday 24 October 2017

'Physical specimen' Byrne continues to make up for lost time

Adam Byrne goes over to score Leinster’s first try on Saturday night. Photo by Sam Barnes/Sportsfile
Adam Byrne goes over to score Leinster’s first try on Saturday night. Photo by Sam Barnes/Sportsfile
Cian Tracey

Cian Tracey

It took Adam Byrne just four minutes of Saturday's demolition of Northampton to score his first try in Europe and when he added his second after half an hour, the only surprise was that he didn't complete his second hat-trick of the season.

Leinster 60 Northampton 13

Byrne was replaced after 51 minutes and sure enough his replacement Rory O'Loughlin got in on the action as an utterly embarrassing Northampton side were put to the sword by Leinster in ruthless fashion.

Isa Nacewa of Leinster scores his side's seventh try. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Isa Nacewa of Leinster scores his side's seventh try. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

For most players, two broken legs suffered at the early stage of your career may have forced a rethink but Byrne has never lost focus on the bigger picture.

His two tries at the Aviva took his tally for the season to seven as he cemented his place as Leinster's top scorer.

The fact that he did so in front of Joe Schmidt who was sitting in the stand will have been all the more pleasing. Byrne is an archetype modern-day winger and his performances will not have gone unnoticed by the Kiwi.

Ireland will tour Japan and America in June and Schmidt is likely to use it as an opportunity to blood some fresh faces. Byrne and fellow winger Darren Sweetnam are surely at the top of that list.

Garry Ringrose of Leinster is tackled by Nic Groom of Northampton Saints. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Garry Ringrose of Leinster is tackled by Nic Groom of Northampton Saints. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

It hasn't been an easy journey for Byrne who, after becoming Leinster's youngest debutant as an 18-year-old in December 2012, didn't feature again until earlier this year.

"He had two broken legs. Separate legs. That cost him some progress," Leo Cullen explained afterwards.

"He's big and powerful, yeah, he works incredibly hard for us and that's probably his best attribute."

Leinster scored nine tries in total on their way to sending out another statement of intent but a cautionary note: Northampton were woeful.

Tadgh Furlong of Leinster is tackled by Alex Waller of Northampton Saints. Photo by Sam Barnes/Sportsfile
Tadgh Furlong of Leinster is tackled by Alex Waller of Northampton Saints. Photo by Sam Barnes/Sportsfile

Cullen will wonder how much he can read into the result but picking up 10 points from a possible 10 in the last two weeks is extremely pleasing.

"I can just see the way the squad has evolved in terms of lots of young guys coming through," man-of-the-match Sean Cronin said.

"That's driven the quality in training and guys pushing each other. Ross Byrne came in there and played fantastic, I thought, in a massive European game.

"They just seem to handle the pressure really well. That has been the biggest aspect, young guys coming in and putting pressure on standards and on the older guys.

"I saw Joey (Carbery) play in the AIL final last year and I thought he was incredible. You can see in those games who the top-quality players are.

"You could see the way he reads the game. Obviously, you have Garry (Ringrose) coming through and Adam (Byrne), he's a physical specimen and he's strong. The fact that they've gotten game time as well, you can see their confidence growing. That's been great for us."

Jim Mallinder set the agenda by sending a second-string team to Dublin and as much as he attempted to defend his selection afterwards, he wasn't fooling anybody.

There was a sizeable travelling support in the 38,584 crowd and they were totally short-changed by what they saw from their side. Northampton's coach was adamant, however, that it was "sensible" to name such a weakened team with three tough Premiership games to come.

"I hope the Saints fans enjoy the weekend," he responded when asked if he had a message for the Northampton die-hards who made the journey.

"I hope they thought the Saints lads put their bodies on the line and tried their very best. Clearly we weren't the better team today but I certainly don't think it was for a lack of effort."

What followed could only be described as one of the most awkward silences (and there have been a few) that the Aviva press room has seen.

Mallinder's conference ended after his pitiful explanation and as he left the room, he demanded to know the name of a reporter who sought clarification that he genuinely thought his team put their bodies on the line. He confirmed that he did.

It was all utterly bizarre. Mallinder had the look of a man who knew that he was on borrowed time. Northampton are going backwards at a rate of knots and Leinster exposed their many deficiencies.

The bonus point was wrapped up by half-time when Seán O'Brien got over after Leinster had recovered from Northampton taking a shock lead through a Ken Pisi intercept try. Byrne scored twice and Luke McGrath's try made up for the wayward pass that he threw for Pisi.

Five more tries followed in the second half, with Isa Nacewa scoring a brace of his own as well as scores from Cronin, Tadhg Furlong and O'Loughlin. Nacewa also kicked 11 points and the excellent Ross Byrne added two conversions.

"We knew that they would be stressed," Cullen insisted.

"You're always wondering what way coaches will select teams. They are still a team with a strong squad. I'm sure he (Mallinder) had faith in those games but there is a challenge when you have a lot changes.

"There were probably a couple things (learnings) in the first half, maybe in the first 20 minutes, on another day going 13-5 behind gets you in trouble because you're chasing a game.

"That's a definitely a learning point. Against the best sides in Europe, you don't want to start the game 13-5 down."

On another day, Leinster might well have been punished but Northampton are no longer one of the best sides in Europe.

Cullen understands that and isn't getting carried away but, deep down, he must be excited about the direction that Leinster are heading in again.

Leinster - Z Kirchner; A Byrne (R O'Loughlin 51), G Ringrose (N Reid 64), R Henshaw, I Nacewa (capt); R Byrne, L McGrath (J Gibson-Park 58); J McGrath (C Healy 47-77), S Cronin (J Tracy 47), T Furlong (M Bent 47); D Toner (R Ruddock, 52), H Triggs; S O'Brien (J Conan 56), J van der Flier, J Heaslip.

Northampton Saints - A Tuala (J Wilson 22); K Pisi, G Pisi (capt) (R Hutchinson h-t), JJ Hanrahan, T Collins (T Kessell 72); S Myler, N Groom; E Waller (A Waller 67), C Clare (J Fish 63), K Brookes (P Hill 51); A Ratuniyarawa, J Craig (M Paterson 51); J Gibson, C Clark (B Nutley h-t), T Harrison.

REF - R Poite (France)

 

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