Friday 19 January 2018

Thirst for knowledge makes Bryan Byrne a hot prospect

Bryan Byrne
Bryan Byrne

Marcus Ó Buachalla

From as early as the Ulster pre-season friendly when Dan Leavy injured his knee, injuries have been a recurring theme at Leinster Rugby. As head coach Matt O'Connor pointed out recently, they have had 21 full internationals on the treatment table this year. Not ideal at the best of times.

But during the dark days there were bright sparks, and most of those bright sparks came from within the Academy system.

Bryan Byrne was one such bright spark. He is only 21. He's a proud Carlow man. He is also the Academy hooker. At the start of the season he had no senior appearances to his Leinster CV but was carving out a name for himself either with Clontarf in the AIL or the 'A' team.

Flash forward five months and it is a different picture entirely.

"I've been lucky this year I suppose that injury to other players have been to my advantage," he says.

"It was unfortunate for Richardt (Strauss) with his injury, and then Sean (Cronin) was out for a bit as well. But that is what you train for, those moments when you are called in to do a job, and it was a great feeling getting that first cap away to Glasgow."

He is now on eight caps, including a full 80 minutes against the Ospreys, and that figure could increase over the next few weeks. Or it may not. Competition is fierce amongst Leinster's hookers and it's a reality that all the players are used to.

"Sean and Richardt are back fit and in contention with Ireland but Aaron Dundon and James Tracy are also back from injury and they are motoring well," says Byrne.

"There are six of us here so the competition is massive but at the same time in the same way that the kickers learn off each other and drive each other on, we're the same.

"You can't control who is picked week in, week out, but you can put yourself in the best possible place for Matt or Girvan (Dempsey - Leinster 'A' coach) to make that call. So personally, I just have to focus on the next block of games, play as best as I can and then take it from there."

Byrne is delighted to be learning his trade alongside two international hookers.

"Sean and Richardt are great lads to be around. We get on well, and although it's a competitive environment they will give me tips on my throws or technique when we are in the gym. They have huge experience, two top-class hookers with experience of other provinces and even other styles with Richardt having played in South Africa, so it's great to be able to pick up tips from them both.

"You see day in, day out why they are, where they are. Look at Sean and how dynamic he is around the park, and how he finds space. Or Richardt in the scrum. After scrums I'd go straight over and ask 'why did you do this?' or 'how could I do this differently?'.

"They are great role models to have but ultimately I want to be challenging for that jersey as well. But for now, it is a great time to be learning from them and picking up bits and pieces while still backing my own style of play and what I bring to the table."

It is then up to two former international hookers (Marco Caputo and John Fogarty) as coaches, to evaluate where he is at. Byrne is similarly effusive in his praise for the pair.

"Marco and Fogs have brought my game on hugely. I've had Fogs for three years in the Academy and even before then he used to come into my school in Clongowes. He's been through so much as a player so a great sounding board," he says.

"The same with Marco, although I haven't known him as long. He's a great coach, excellent in terms of the feedback and the technical nature of your scrummaging or your throwing technique."

The life of a professional rugby player - nobody said it was going to be easy. Loss of form, non-selection, injury are all part and parcel of the modern player's lot. But when your twin brother is on the same team as you and then picks up a season-ending injury, that's another world of pain that most other players don't have to deal with.

"Initially it was very tough for Ed and for us all when we heard that it was his ACL that he had damaged. It was devastating for him personally but I was in that dressing-room too and only minutes before that we had been on the pitch together, scrummaging together, winning together in a Leinster jersey," says Bryan.

"So very quickly a special moment for us personally and for our family and then for the team with a win against Edinburgh had been turned very sour."

Like all things though, and like all injuries, there is light at the end of the tunnel and while there is a bit to go yet, his housemate is progressing well.

"He's over half way now which is great. The rehab is going well and the knee is healing bit by bit. It also gives him the chance to strengthen other areas so his upper body strength has improved," says Bryan.

"He's really kicking on and the hope is that he'll be running in a few weeks."

While he waits to be reunited in the Leinster front row with his brother, Bryan Byrne has his eyes focused on a crucial block of games in the Pro12 and a B&I Cup semi-final away to Worcester, a team flying high in the English Championship.

"You can't get too far ahead of yourself but with the A's we have half an eye on Worcester in a few weeks and I suppose with the senior team I'd love to be in contention for the Pro12 games coming up," he says.

First up a Dragons team that have been hit and miss this season but Byrne and his team-mates are planning for the hit, not the miss.

"It's not going to be easy - we played them twice last year and both times we had to work very hard to beat them," he warns.

"This year they would be the first to say that their Pro12 form hasn't been the best but you look at their European form and they have beaten Stade Francais twice and Newcastle away from home. So we need to be ready.

"Then it's Zebre, Ospreys and the Scarlets. Massive games and I'd love to be involved."

Irish Independent

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