Tuesday 16 January 2018

Beirne offers new dynamic for Munster's post-Ryan era

Tadhg Beirne battles it out with Munster’s Donnacha Ryan during Scarlets victory over Munster in last year’s PRO12 final. Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
Tadhg Beirne battles it out with Munster’s Donnacha Ryan during Scarlets victory over Munster in last year’s PRO12 final. Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
Cian Tracey

Cian Tracey

When the IRFU's brains trust got together last year and decided not to renew Donnacha Ryan's national contract, they did so having taken stock of the bigger picture.

On the back of arguably, Ryan's best season of his career, Munster and their supporters were understandably bitterly disappointed with the union's decision but the fact is an offer to remain at home lay on the table.

No one, however, could blame Ryan for wanting to sample life in Paris for a considerable extra few bucks but nevertheless, the backlash against the IRFU that followed was inevitable.

A neck Injury has meant that Ryan has yet to play for Racing 92 since joining and, when you consider that he will be almost 36 by the time the next World Cup rolls around, you can begin to see some of the IRFU's logic.

Tadhg Beirne has long been identified as the man to help fill the void left by Ryan.

The 25-year-old has been one of the most outstanding players in the Guinness PRO12/14 over the last year and signing him on a two-year deal is a huge coup for the province.

Identified Had the situation played out differently, Beirne could well be lining out for Munster right now but, as it is, you can only admire his desire to honour his Scarlets contract after the Welsh club essentially revived his career that was perilously close to getting packed in.

The Scarlets were desperate to keep Beirne at the club but ultimately his desire to want to play international rugby will see him return to these shores.

The Kildare native, who came through the Leinster Academy and played four times for the senior team, is a completely different player to Ryan but it is the balance that he will bring to the engine room that makes him such a promising signing.

Beirne grew up playing the majority of his rugby as a flanker and that has been reflected in his performances for the Scarlets since he joined them late in the day before last season.

Since the turn of the year, Beirne has won 31 turnovers - the most of any player in the PRO14 and the dogged nature that he is beginning to add to his game will go down well with supporters.

Munster have been crippled by injuries in the second-row this season which has made Ryan's absence felt even more but again, it was worth reminding that he has yet to play a single minute for Racing with Ronan O'Gara recently describing his body as "fairly battered".

Jean Kleyn showed glimpses of his potential last season and the way he started this campaign confirmed earlier suspicions that he is a star in the making.

There is no question that Munster have lost a bit of grunt in the engine room but Kleyn's powerhouse displays would suggest that he is more than capable of playing the enforcer role, if of course he can stay fit.

A second-row partnership of Kleyn and Beirne has an excellent-looking balance to it and it is one that should have Munster fans purring with excitement. During a period of uncertainty down south, signing Beirne should ease some of those tensions for now.

Beirne is playing catch-up in his bid to win a first cap but given his ambitious nature, he will have his sights set on becoming a regular part of Joe Schmidt's plans.

Chris Farrell faces a similar task and earlier this year, he revealed in these pages how Schmidt had been in regular contact with him; pointing out different aspects of his game to work on before he arrived back in Ireland.

It's a sensible approach from the Kiwi and it all ties in with the IRFU's long-term strategy. It would come as no surprise if Beirne was receiving similar advice from Schmidt right now.

He will however have to wait for his chance in a green jersey. Had Munster gotten the deal over the line when they were chasing Beirne earlier this year, one would assume that the former Clongowes student would be in line for his debut next month.

But Schmidt is highly unlikely to make a special case for him as he plays abroad, and it seems almost certain that Beirne will have to wait until next year to force his way in.

Questions have been asked of Beirne's weight at international level but such was the manner in which he dominated opponents week in, week out in Scarlets' march to the PRO12 title last season, it would be wise to reserve judgement on his 106kg frame until he returns to the Irish system.

"When we got him, he was very enthusiastic," Scarlets coach Wayne Pivac told the Irish Independent this week.

Perseverance "His skills needed to be worked on, his pass, catch skills. We train the forwards to run into spaces. He's now doing very well after working on that skill set.

"As time has gone on, he's got better and better. I think that's just perseverance. We've seen him really excel and I think he just needed a lot of game time."

While some may argue that does not reflect well on his pathway through Leinster, Beirne's time with his home province was blighted by injury and the player himself has admitted as much.

Beirne has not been signed to be the 'new Donnacha Ryan' and to compare him to a Munster legend is both unfair and pointless. He will however offer his new club a new dynamic.

As he enters the prime of his career, Beirne's best days are still ahead of him.

Ultimately, the IRFU did not believe the same was true of a 33-year-old veteran.

Time will tell if they made the correct decision but few could deny that they had the long game in sight when they made it.

Irish Independent

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