Thursday 13 December 2018

Byrne impresses Schmidt with attitude on the training ground

Ross Byrne. Photo: Sportsfile
Ross Byrne. Photo: Sportsfile

Rúaidhrí O'Connor

Quietly, and without much fuss, Ross Byrne has played his way into Ireland contention this season and Joe Schmidt has been impressed by how he has adapted to life in camp.

The 22-year-old Leinster out-half has seen off Joey Carbery as the province's back-up to Johnny Sexton and his next battle is to leapfrog his old sparring partner into the No 2 slot with Ireland.

A lack of versatility holds him back from getting a bench spot; he only plays out-half while Carbery covers full-back and, at a stretch, scrum-half and centre.

But Byrne has shown signs that he is a very able deputy for Sexton who can step into the 32-year-old's shoes without missing a beat and now he has a chance to impress Schmidt in Australia.

It was put to the Ireland coach that Byrne is Leinster's most improved player and, while he wasn't about to bite down on that proposition, he was complimentary towards the youngster.

"I'd sure you'd get a decent battle for that most improved player because there have been some young kids who have really been outstanding," he said.

"But he's done a really good job. You can't dispute that he's a great sort of back-up to Johnny.

"Even his game-management, he's been in here for one training, and he takes responsibility very quickly and takes it with a real maturity that gives confidence to the players around him.

"That's how you get your cohesion, that people know where they are meant to be, they know what they're meant to do and he's really taken that mantle on pretty quickly.

"So from that perspective, I think he's done a really good job.

"He's kicked out of hand pretty well, his goalkicking has been pretty sound."

Like Carbery, the idea of moving to Ulster was put to Byrne but he did not want to leave Leinster and turned the idea down.

Carbery ultimately chose to move to Munster, meaning Schmidt has a better spread of Irish-qualified out-halves in Ireland.

"Ian Madigan left and went to Bordeaux to start at No 10 because it wasn't happening here," he said.

"And part of that in my discussion with Ian was that he wanted to go away and make himself into the sort of 10 that would be a starting 10 at one of the provinces, should he get back in time for the World Cup when he was first going away.

"JJ Hanrahan went away to Northampton... we certainly want to keep the depth of talent that we can within the country so the good thing with Ross, I had a very, very brief chat with Ross and said, 'Look, have you got any interest in going to Ulster?', and he said, 'No, look, I'm happy with Leinster, I've had 16 starts', or something at the time.

"There was no hesitation in his mind that he was in a really good environment and he was making really good progress, and you can't argue with that. I think they're both incredibly valid."

Ireland landed in Brisbane on Saturday and have been getting over their long trip at their team base on the Gold Coast.

They will train for the first time tomorrow and Schmidt hopes to have everyone fit to take a full part in that session.

Australia, meanwhile, have won their battle to have flanker Pete Samu released by the Crusaders and he will link up with the squad.

Hooker Jordan Uelese suffered a suspected cruciate ligament tear in the Rebels' win and will miss the series.

Uelese was expected to be Cheika's preferred option at No 2 despite having just two caps, with his the remaining hookers in the squad, Brandon Paenga-Amosa and Folau Fainga'a, both uncapped for the Wallabies.

Ireland, of course, have hooker issues of their own but the loss of Rory Best is mitigated by the experience of his deputy, Seán Cronin.

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