Sunday 26 May 2019

'It doesn't look great, but I didn't dive' - Tadhg Beirne on his tumble in Edinburgh and first season with Munster

Tadhg Beirne has his say on his controversial tumble in Edinburgh as he reflects on his first Munster season, Ireland frustrations and the life of a jackaller

Beirne Ultimatum: Tadhg Beirne believes there was an overreaction to him earning a penalty in the Champions Cup against Edinburgh. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Beirne Ultimatum: Tadhg Beirne believes there was an overreaction to him earning a penalty in the Champions Cup against Edinburgh. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

Rúaidhrí O’Connor

SATURDAY, March 30 was all going to plan for Tadhg Beirne. Having played a key role in a tight European quarter-final win, he and his Munster team-mates lingered on the pitch to savour a magic moment before repairing to the dressing-room to begin celebrating and looking ahead to the battles to come.

Then he turned on his phone.

Perhaps his ears should have been burning, but unbeknownst to the second-row his name was being taken in vain on television and the reaction was stronger online.

In the 70th minute of a tense game, Edinburgh were going through the phases in Munster's half when their prop Pierre Schoeman stepped into Beirne's path and sent him flying.

After reviewing the incident, referee Pascal Gauzere reversed a penalty in Munster's favour and they scored the winning try from the resultant lineout.

The nature of the Kildare native's reaction was the touch-paper for a debate that lasted a week as Richard Cockerill accused him of diving and undermining the game's values, and the podcasts, radio shows and midweek TV review shows chewed over what many perceived as a theatrical fall.

Brian O'Driscoll. Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
Brian O'Driscoll. Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

On social media, the Munster fans stood up for their man as things descended the way they do online.

All the while, the man in question's phone kept buzzing and he opted against making a public statement.

A few weeks on, the noise has died down and when he takes a seat in a quiet corner of Munster's training centre at the University of Limerick he knows what's coming. We decide to get it out of the way early.

"It's to be expected that it was going to come up," he shrugs.

"Look, it's a bit frustrating... I can see where everyone is coming from when I look at it, it doesn't look particularly good. It looks a bit flamboyant.

"But from my perspective it was essentially being blindsided by a bloke who is essentially 20kg heavier than me. I was off balance and I was going down, then 'Jez' (Jeremy Loughman) catches me from behind and I landed awkwardly and that's why I ended up staying down.

"It probably got a lot more media coverage than you'd expect. At the end of the day, it was a penalty and a talking point for everyone... I certainly got enough abuse on Twitter about it.

"I debated whether to say something about it, but I knew myself I didn't dive as everyone was saying and I am not one to go down easily. If you look through a lot of my games, I'm one to get up and keep going.

"There is a reason I stayed down, I landed awkwardly and got a bit winded... I got hit when I wasn't expecting to.

"It didn't even cross my mind (at the time), I didn't think about it. I got back to the hotel and I'd a few personal messages on Instagram and Twitter... 'Cheat!' ''Diver!' - that kind of stuff.

"The first time I saw (the clip) I said, 'it's blatant I got hit there', but the more you slow it down it probably does look like I go down easily.

"What most people didn't see was I was hit from behind by Jez as well and that made it worse. That is what I know happened, but no matter what I say a lot of people will disagree with me - especially the Edinburgh fans."

Although he understands the furore, it didn't make it any more pleasant.

"This is probably the first time I've been on the other side of it in terms of getting a lot of abuse, being called a cheat or whatever," Beirne explains.

"At the start, because I knew what had happened I didn't take it to heart and some of them you could see the funny side of it, people were just taking the piss out of me essentially, but when it kept going and going it got to a point where I wondered if I should say something.

"It was getting a bit ridiculous how much traction it was getting, especially when you've the likes of Brian O'Driscoll (right) commenting on it. David Flatman tweeted that I should apologise for it and all of that just brought more attention.

"Every day, someone with a profile was saying something about it and that would bring more people to tag you... eventually you have to turn a blind eye to it and let it blow over because what else can you do?

"It's easy to look at certain incidents like that and say, 'oh, he went down easily' but put yourself in that situation with a bloke that size hitting you without knowing he's going to hit you.

"So, it's easy to judge people for certain things and say it's terrible gamesmanship, but until you're in that situation you can't really say.

"I'm sure on one or two occasions I've probably gone in to block a No 10 and ended up hitting them and they stay down for a lot longer and nobody talks about that... but that's also gamesmanship.

"It's what some players do to draw attention to a penalty. It's not the best thing in the game, but it definitely does happen. Against Edinburgh, that's not what I was looking to do."

Whatever, it certainly shouldn't define Beirne's first season in red where he has arrived from the Scarlets and continued his excellent work.

The top breakdown turnover specialist in the tournament, the Eadestown man has played a central role in getting the team back to another semi-final.

He calls Munster's lineout and contributes to their defensive and ball-carrying games. If they are to take the next step against Saracens today, he'll be key.

"The lineout has certainly improved as the months have gone on," he says of his first season back in Ireland.

"I'm quite confident in that area, it's only grown my game and the other areas of my game I've definitely been able to bring out the more I've played as well.

"I've been given a little bit of freedom as well here defensively and that, I've been able to chase some balls and get some turnovers which is nice.

"I'm happy with how the year has gone, I've had ups and downs through the season. Hopefully I can finish on a high."

Central to his game is his ability to get into the poach position and resist the flurry of bodies trying to shift him.

Dan Leavy is the latest player to suffer a horrendous knee injury attempting a jackal.

Beirne may be one of the finest exponents of the art, but he concedes to feeling vulnerable when he latches on.

He argues that referees could offer more protection.

"It's more frustrating than anything," he says. "Personally, looking at games, that is one of those things that is not reffed as well as it used to be - players coming in from the side.

"So, from a jackalling point of view that's not ideal. It's definitely something you'd be concerned about if it continues to creep into the game.

"Referees have different views on the poach. Some expect you to be on the ball for five or six seconds, others are happy for you to be on the ball and once you've shown that you've made an attempt and they have held on to the ball then it should be a penalty.

"The longer you've to stay in there the more dangerous it is.

"It's a pretty vulnerable position and it's very frustrating if you're on the ball for quite a long time and you're not getting anything - especially when you can feel the first, second and even the third hit and you still haven't been rewarded.

"You're wondering, 'where does the safety come in for me here? I'm showing a good picture and I've gotten on the ball'."

Beirne's move to Munster was driven in large part by a desire to play for Ireland. He made a big impact off the bench in the series decider against Australia in June, but his involvement has been limited this season.

In November, he played in the two lower-profile games and an ill-timed injury against Exeter Chiefs derailed his Six Nations plans.

When he got back fit, he wasn't picked for the wins over Italy and France but started the loss to Wales.

"Ideally," he says when asked if he'd wanted more.

"I worked pretty hard to be in contention for the Italy and France games and was bitterly disappointed (at) not being selected.

"Through injury I suppose I ended up getting a chance against Wales, but on a personal level it didn't go particularly well. I hadn't probably trained particularly well for the two weeks leading up to it.

"So, my confidence wasn't where I would have liked it to be going into that game from a personal level - nothing to do with the team.

"And then the game ended up not going particularly well, so from that point of view the Six Nations didn't go particularly well for me and that's pretty frustrating going into such a big couple of months now once the World Cup comes around.

"Hopefully I'll be able to amend my last couple of weeks in Ireland camp."

Today's game against a highly-fancied Saracens side is the kind of window where the watching international coaches will be keeping a close eye.

"I feel like I'm back fully fit," Beirne enthuses.

"That's something I can take confidence from. I'm quite excited about the next couple of weeks now and putting in a good performance and helping Munster, hopefully, to a European final."

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