Wednesday 18 September 2019

Unsung hero Byrne happy to let his game do the talking

Ross Byrne has become a pivotal player in Leinster team. Photo: Sportsfile
Ross Byrne has become a pivotal player in Leinster team. Photo: Sportsfile
Cian Tracey

Cian Tracey

Before a ball was kicked this season Ross Byrne must have wondered how much game-time, outside the international windows, he was going to get.

Eleven games in, the 22-year-old is the only player in Leinster's sizeable squad to have featured in every one of them.

Only three of those appearances have come off the bench which tells you a lot about the trust Leo Cullen and Stuart Lancaster have in Byrne.

The clarion calls for Joey Carbery to be given time in the pivot position have been understandable and, with Joe Schmidt publicly doing the same, the temptation must have been strong to do so.

The problem is that Byrne has done very little wrong for Leinster to warrant being dropped.

The former Ireland U-20s star has steered the ship remarkably well in Johnny Sexton's absence and it is little wonder why Cullen has stuck with him.

Carbery's arm injury will quieten the furore for now but when he returns and assuming Sexton, Byrne and Rob Kearney are still fit, it will be fascinating to see how the selection goes.

Few would deny that Carbery is the heir apparent to Sexton's throne but Byrne has almost become the forgotten man in this debate.

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Still uncapped, one wonders how tempted Schmidt might have been to have him in camp for the last month.

It remains to be seen what kind of squad the Ireland boss will take to Australia next summer but, if Byrne maintains these kind of standards, he won't be too far away from making the Kiwi consider him as a possible back-up.

"Ross Byrne looks like a serious player," Luke Fitzgerald said on this week's episode of the Left Wing podcast.

Ian Keatley certainly revived his international career in the November Tests. But, with Tyler Bleyendaal, who becomes Irish-qualified in January, to come back from a neck injury, he remains embroiled in a battle with the former New Zealand U-20 captain and JJ Hanrahan for the out-half slot.

"He's a pretty cool character," maintained Noel Reid, who is likely to play outside of Byrne against Benetton on Saturday.

"A bit like myself, he's just trying to look after his own shop. Any time he gets picked, just trying to do his best and again, obviously in Leinster every position is so competitive and you put your best foot forward, and it's up to the coaches to pick you then.

"That sort of stuff wouldn't faze him, he's been really good over the last few weeks and going forward he'll be really important for us.

"He's playing well, he's training well, he's controlling the team, he's relatively young and new.

"Ross knows he's going well and he's getting the support from his team-mates and coaches, so that's all that matters really.

"I don't know how many caps he has but he's still improving and gaining experience all the time. It's an exciting time for him."

Last week, Lancaster admitted that Carbery was set for a spell at out-half before he picked up the injury against Fiji, but Byrne's form complicates that matter.

The former St Michael's student may not have the same kind of spark that Carbery has but he has become a reliable man to pull the strings.

Last Friday night against the Dragons, a poor side admittedly, Byrne ran the show and put in a man-of-the-match performance that had his head coach suitably impressed.

"Yeah, 100pc," Cullen responded when asked if Byrne's display was the ideal response to all the talk about Carbery that has gone on in recent weeks.

"I am delighted for Ross because he has been involved in all of our games this year.

"He got a little bit of exposure during that World Cup period. It's great to see those guys pushing through.

"The competition is healthy as well because they are all pushing each other on and they are all different types of players.

"It is important that we have that depth because you think back to that Glasgow game a couple of weeks ago and we're missing two 10s with Ireland.

"Those guys are working away well with Girv (Dempsey) and Emmet Farrell as well. I thought Ross controlled the game (against Dragons) well."

With Carbery out of the equation for the next few weeks, Byrne will continue to provide cover for Sexton, and considering that at the start of last season, he wasn't even registered for the Champions Cup squad, it illustrates how far he has come.

He still has quite a way to go yet, Byrne knows that himself, but he is slowly emerging from the shadows and into the spotlight.

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