Sunday 21 July 2019

O'Loughlin: I always knew Byrne would play for Ireland

Since he first played alongside the out-half who was playing a year young on the U-13s, Rory O’Loughlin has been part of a Byrne-run backline. Photo by Sam Barnes/Sportsfile
Since he first played alongside the out-half who was playing a year young on the U-13s, Rory O’Loughlin has been part of a Byrne-run backline. Photo by Sam Barnes/Sportsfile

Rúaidhrí O'Connor

Even when he was in primary school at St Michael's College, Ross Byrne was showing signs he could go on to great things on the rugby pitch.

On Saturday, Byrne is expected to win his first Ireland cap against Italy in Chicago after touring Australia without getting a minute's action last June.

At the south Dublin school, they have long known that the now-23-year-old was capable of representing his country at the highest level.

Since he first played alongside the out-half who was playing a year young on the U-13s, Rory O'Loughlin has been part of a Byrne-run backline.

"He's always had a really calm head about him, I played with him when he was in sixth class in St Michael's and I was in first year and he got called up to our U-13s team. They used to do that back then," he recalls.

"You could tell his skill-set was always above his age-grade, he could catch and pass and kick better than most players on the team and that got him on to teams before he was physically ready.

"He was 13 playing for my Junior Cup team and he nearly won us the Junior Cup with a drop goal. He just missed it, but for a 13-year-old to even attempt that you just knew he had confidence in himself at such a young age. I was playing him the whole way up, I won a senior cup alongside him which was one of the high points of my career.

"He was the out-half on that team, same with Ireland U-20s and then you saw two seasons ago when he came into the Leinster senior team he had confidence to come into the team and control and direct them.

"I think you always kind of knew it would happen at some stage, maybe not as early as it has now. He might have had a few setbacks a couple of seasons ago but it is well-deserved.

"I think it has been his goal to get capped this November and hopefully he will this weekend in Chicago."

Last weekend, Byrne stamped his authority on the Leinster backline in Treviso, even bawling Scott Fardy out for an error in true Johnny Sexton style. And O'Loughlin says the 23-year-old has benefited from working alongside the Lion.

"He's matured as a player, he understands now that he has to be the dominant driver and I think he's learnt a lot through Johnny," he says.

"Johnny directs a team, be it in a walk-through or early on he sets out the standard in every session, walk-through or meeting and Ross has adapted that and brought that more ruthless edge.

"He's a very laid-back lad, out-halves have to be a director at times and he's grown into that role in the last season or two and that's what is paying off for them now."

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