Saturday 21 April 2018

'We know the hardest work is still ahead of us'

The big interview: Adam Byrne

Adam Byrne hard at work in training. Photo: Sportsfile
Adam Byrne hard at work in training. Photo: Sportsfile

Marcus Ó Buachalla

It's hard not to start any chat about the week ahead without first referencing the weekend that was. Saracens in the Aviva on Sunday may have grabbed all of the headlines but Munster 'A' in Energia Park on Friday played an important role in setting up the weekend, according to Leinster winger Adam Byrne.

The Kildare man was 24th man for the Champions Cup game on the Sunday and was an enthusiastic supporter on the Friday as the Leinster 'A' team got the better of Munster in the British & Irish Cup.

"It was a special weekend for the club. That win on Friday really set it up for everyone. All the boys were at that game and cheering on the lads and it was a really impressive performance.

"The conditions weren't great and Munster owned the ball for the last 15 or 20 minutes so the game actually called upon some of the characteristics in our guys that we talk about quite a lot. Working for each other and driving each other on.

"To see that level of effort was a motivation in itself and now we have two semi-finals to look forward to in a few weeks."

There has been a lot of talk about the attacking guile and the masterclass from the likes of Dan Leavy and James Ryan against Saracens but for Byrne it was the Leinster defence that impressed him the most and put in place the foundation.

Adam Byrne. Photo: Sportsfile
Adam Byrne. Photo: Sportsfile

"Saracens have been the standard-bearer in European rugby for two seasons now and got their rewards for that. Even this season maybe they stumbled into the quarter-finals but they got there and won when it mattered and they have been scoring tries for fun.

"They've been doing the same in the Premiership. Sitting in second place with the highest tries scored. So for me it was our defensive effort that impressed me and again like the lads did on Friday, I think it showed all the right characteristics you would want from a team. And lads going the extra yard for each other, putting bodies on the line.

"And then that defensive platform allowed us to put 30 points on a team like Saracens. And yet we can get better. So I think looking back on it we can take huge encouragement from the game and yet know this is only a step towards the semi-finals. Nothing is won yet and the hardest work is still ahead of us."

Cursory

A small matter maybe but a cursory glance back at a similar stage last year reveals a similar result against Wasps for the senior team but the 'A' team didn't make it out of their pool, something that left a lot of players with no representative rugby to aim for for a good chunk of time, while others were gearing up for massive assignments in the PRO12 (as it was then) and the Champions Cup.

"I had never really thought about it like that but I suppose what we now have is the whole club and all the players be they senior or Academy with a purpose.

Adam Byrne with team-mates Jordan Larmour and James Lowe after the New Zealander scored his side’s first try against Scarlets. Photo: Sportsfile
Adam Byrne with team-mates Jordan Larmour and James Lowe after the New Zealander scored his side’s first try against Scarlets. Photo: Sportsfile

"The lads involved with the Leinster 'A' team will want to go to Jersey and win their semi-final and the squad selected for the Scarlets game will want to do likewise. Lads pitching up in PRO14 games will want to secure that home semi-final.

"The next few weeks is about getting to that point with everyone working towards that common goal, getting a jersey on their back and a team performance then on the pitch. There can be no slacking off because the rewards are so great and the cost of failure is effectively a season over in those two knockout competitions in particular.

"We have also seen as recently as two weeks ago when we lost to the Ospreys that every team now in the PRO14 is scrapping for something and if we don't arrive to the pitch of the game with the right attitude we will get caught cold.

"So yeah, maybe having everyone focused can give an extra boost that we maybe didn't have last season. Well, I hope it can!"

Byrne himself has had a season of brilliant highs and disappointing lows. His Ireland debut against Argentina most certainly the high but his injury frustrations since then a definite low.

"I suppose I just thought that the knee injury I picked up against Argentina was innocuous enough and I thought I'd be back for those interpros in and around Christmas and would then kick on into Europe for Rounds 5 and 6 but it wasn't to be.

"But that was then and for me now it's about grabbing whatever opportunity I get over the next few weekends with Leinster and putting my hand up because it's a massive few weeks ahead of the club.

"We're into April now and the season ends on the 26th May - hopefully - so it really is the tail end of the season and everyone just wants to play their part in the B&I Cup, in the PRO14 and in the Champions Cup. We all have a role to play."

The first challenge is the visit of Zebre to the RDS tomorrow. The stand-out stats for most will be only four games won this season for Zebre but for Byrne & Co, it's also the stand-out stat but for a different reason.

"What those games have shown us is that when it clicks for them, they can perform and Michael Bradley has brought them to another level this season but maybe they just haven't had the luck in some of their games.

"But they have still beaten Connacht home and away, have beaten Ulster so they know how to play and have players like (Carlo) Canna at ten that can hurt you and other players that have had really good Six Nations for Italy.

Capable

"So we will focus on those tapes of them and what they are capable of and we will then bring all the focus on ourselves because I think the prize for us at this point in the season and trying to secure a home semi-final in the PRO14 is so great and nobody wants to let it slide."

Zebre, Benetton and Scarlets. The RDS twice and then the Aviva. It's building up to be some run-in.

"Playing at home guarantees you nothing and we saw that in last year's PRO12 semi-final but what it does give you is familiarity in terms of your surroundings and of course that massive support.

"I'm not sure the supporters realise the impact they can have on a game and they really do give you that extra gear when you are under pressure and they have been massive for us this season and hopefully they can be again over the next few weekends."

Whether 1-23, the wider squad or the 16th man, all with a role to play.

Irish Independent

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