Thursday 26 April 2018

'You have to be single-minded in your approach' - Ross Byrne

Competition in the Leinster squad has meant former St Michael’s man has had to be patient, but he’s ready

Ross Byrne in action against Ulster’s Stuart McCloskey during their Pro12 clash in December SPORTSFILE
Ross Byrne in action against Ulster’s Stuart McCloskey during their Pro12 clash in December SPORTSFILE

Marcus Ó Buachalla

There has been a lot of attention on the out-half situation in Irish rugby this week. With Johnny Sexton ruled out of the trip to Scotland, the conversation around the depth in that position took over the chat rooms and the club houses.

In Donnybrook Stadium, though, on a wet Wednesday morning, one of Leinster's young out-halves, Ross Byrne, keeps his focus on his next job. Or to be exact, his next kick. No room for idle chatter.

As we catch up, the 21-year-old is just off the field from a kicking session with senior analyst Emmet Farrell. A day off it may be but it's also the designated kicking day for those that rely on their boots for more than just walking.

"On average we do three kicking sessions a week. Two of those sessions will be after training but a third will be a purely kicking day and the only gap for that in the schedule is on our day off. So there's a gang of us that head down to Donnybrook or into Rosemount in UCD or to the RDS and work specifically on our kicking."

Since the departure of Richie Murphy to a full-time role with the Irish team, the job of kicking coach has fallen to the aforementioned Farrell. It's a role that comes easily to the former Blackrock College and Leinster out-half.

"Emmet has been brilliant for me anyway. The sessions that he runs on a Wednesday or even just how he coaches those other kicking or skills sessions, he always keeps the sessions varied and that level of internal competition is there. It's hard to replicate the pressure of a match day but if you can bring some element of that to the table it helps. So yeah there would be a good rivalry at the sessions and something at stake even if only bragging rights!"

Ross Byrne arriving for Leinster training. SPORTSFILE
Ross Byrne arriving for Leinster training. SPORTSFILE

Byrne is also taken with the extra bits that Farrell has brought to his own game.

"As our senior analyst, he also spends hours poring over opposition footage and even our own footage, so he knows my game pretty well before he even looks at my skills or my kicking. He also has a really good knowledge of the team that we will face at the weekend so little things that he might bring to the kicking sessions are often with the opposition in mind as opposed to just general pointers. So today and a few things that we worked on we are already thinking of Treviso in ten days' time and what might be required."


Treviso. The next job. Doing well for Leinster. That is all that is occupying his thoughts. But back to the chatter nonetheless.

Ross Byrne in action against Ulster’s Stuart McCloskey during their Pro12 clash in December SPORTSFILE
Ross Byrne in action against Ulster’s Stuart McCloskey during their Pro12 clash in December SPORTSFILE

His name has been mentioned in dispatches in light of the injury to Sexton. As the starting out-half in Leinster at present and having played a big part in steering Leinster to the Champions Cup quarter-finals, Byrne understands it, and is flattered by it, but is also mindful of the journey taken.

"At the start of the season I wasn't even in the registered Champions Cup squad and obviously I was disappointed with that but I just had to go away and work on my game. I had a few niggles which didn't help my cause but still I would have been annoyed at not being named but, as I said, you just have to put the head down and that is still the case."

And put the head down he did. When the next chance came he was ready. A hand injury to Cathal Marsh opened up a spot. Before he knew it Byrne was a European-registered player for Leinster and with an injury to Sexton, was suddenly on the bench for the Round 3 game away to Northampton.

"It was a crazy few weeks the way it played out and the injuries to the lads. You feel for them obviously. We spend so much time together so you know what they go through. But injuries are a part and parcel of the game and you need a strong squad so when my chance came, you have to be pretty single-minded in your approach.


"First there was Cathal and his hand. Joey obviously then picked up an injury early in that game against Saints so I was on away from home in a must-win game. We had Northampton again the week after in the Aviva Stadium so it was a case of park it, refocus and go again."

That Aviva Stadium game was his first European start and he lead the team to a 60-13 bonus-point win kicking a few conversions for good measure. Since then Sexton has come back but Byrne has very much played his part and now he is looking forward to doing it again over the next six weeks or so.

"We are third in the Guinness Pro12 and this is a great opportunity to get more points on the board. Two away games and two home games but massive opportunities each week for us younger lads to show the coaches that we are ready for the step up.

"Other teams will raise their standards and maybe look at these games as opportunities to take us on but there is a really good buzz to the place at the moment, even without the Irish lads, as I think everyone knows the chance that is there for us all over the next few weeks. It's exciting."

Before the trip to Treviso on Sunday week there is the small matter of the Six Nations this weekend and Byrne, the supporter, is looking forward to it.

"It's still one of the biggest tournaments in world rugby so yeah I'll sit back and watch it with my mates this weekend and hopefully they'll go well. There's a few Leinster lads in there too obviously so it would be great to see them go well at the weekend and get a first win to get up and running in the championship."

And then it will be time to narrow the focus on all things Leinster. Having had a week off last week he's in a good place mentally and physically.

"It was a demanding eight or nine weeks before this. Four rounds of Champions Cup, the three games in 11 days over Christmas and then the other Pro12 games so the legs were feeling it a bit at the end of the block. The break was definitely needed! But I'd much rather have that complaint after a block of games than have any regrets or disappointments at a lack of game-time. So it was a nice complaint to have.

"I think like all of us now though, we want to close that gap on Ospreys and Munster and next week is going to be a huge week."

Next job. Today it's kicking. And economics and politics lectures in UCD. Next week it's Treviso. After that? Who knows? But one thing's for sure, Ross Byrne will be ready.

Irish Independent

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