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Byrne focusing on his strengths as he targets silverware

Leinster's Ross Byrne. Photo: Sportsfile
Leinster's Ross Byrne. Photo: Sportsfile
Ruaidhri O'Connor

Ruaidhri O'Connor

A year ago, when Joey Carbery's early-season form was attracting all levels of interest, Leo Cullen was fielding questions from left, right and centre about precocious young out-half.

Each time, the Leinster coach would sigh a little and give a similar, if not exactly the same answer in which he would talk about Carbery only in the context of the three young No 10s in his squad and trotted out the names of Ross Byrne and Cathal Marsh as well.

The pair were playing second and third fiddle to the Auckland-born, Athy-raised starlet who would famously go on to come off the bench in Chicago and add the All Blacks scalp to his CV after just one cap in November.

Yet Cullen would stay true to his word as the campaign went on. Johnny Sexton's injuries left the former captain light on experienced back-up at out-half and when Carbery did his ankle in Northampton, Byrne was the next man in.

By the end of the campaign, the St Michael's graduate was the regular understudy to Sexton and Carbery was getting used to life at full-back.

At the start of this season, it's as you were and when Byrne was replaced at the end of last Saturday's win over the Southern Kings, it was Marsh who came into the playmaker role as Carbery remained at No 15.

Jostling

Sexton is still the No 1 by some distance, but the jostling for position will continue until he decides to call it a day.

His injury profile and Ireland commitments mean there are plenty of opportunities and having earned the back-up status Byrne is not willing to go back to the days of watching on from the stand.

"At the time, when you're not playing, you have to be patient," he reflected on this time last year.

"But that's easy to say now, but it's obviously very frustrating at the time.

"You have to keep doing what you're doing, work hard and then sometimes hope for a bit of luck.

"I mean all the lads got injured, I got lucky and got a good few chances and I took my chances as well I thought.

"I got to play for the rest of the season and I hope to continue to push on this season and improve again."

Byrne was long considered to be ahead of Carbery in the pecking order in the Leinster Academy, his presence as UCD's No 1 out-half forced his rival to cross the city in the move to Clontarf that would pave his way to the first team.

They are very different players, each with contrasting strengths and Byrne is focusing on what he does well as he looks to keep a competitive edge.

"My overall game-management is something I'm always trying to improve on, I think it's always been a strength of mine but it can always be a lot stronger," he said.

"It's something I would have always said I'd have had a bit of an edge on other people, I'm never going to be lightning fast so there's no point in trying to be something I'm not.

"It's about continuing to strengthen my own areas - which I think are strong - and then tidy up other areas as well."

Learning at close-quarters from Sexton has been a big help according to Byrne, who feels the more time he is spending on the pitch the more he is growing into the role.

"He (Sexton) is helpful, it's a competitive position and I'm trying to take it over," he said.

"It's in training and meetings, seeing what he's saying and how his brain works in certain areas - it is brilliant to get that knowledge.

"You probably don't realise how much of a difference the minutes will make, it's just because you have been in the situations before, you're comfortable with the systems and calling the plays.

"It definitely makes a big difference."

Personal improvement isn't the only focus for Byrne who, like all of the Leinster cubs, was raised watching the province win trophies and is determined to play a part in bringing some fresh silverware back to the RDS.

"Last year was great to play so much, but ultimately we didn't win silverware which was a major disappointment," he said.

"That's what were striving for this year, that's definitely the ultimate goal.

"We don't want to come away with nothing again, personally I'm just hoping to bring the best that I can."

That level is continuing on an upward curve as Byrne grows into the role.

Irish Independent

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