Thursday 19 September 2019

Des Berry: 'Are Ireland in secret crisis? Byrne selection raises questions around pecking order in squad'


Ireland's Ross Byrne. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
Ireland's Ross Byrne. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

Des Berry

Timing is everything, as the saying goes, and never has that rang so true - on and off the field - for Ross Byrne.

As mooted in the Irish Independent earlier this the week, Byrne has been parachuted down from the clouds for his first Ireland start against England in Twickenham tomorrow (3.0).

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The Leinster out-half, with the gait and game of a budding Jonathan Sexton, will have to play like the World Player of the Year to make a strong case for his inclusion in the 31-man Japan squad.

To this point, Byrne has accumulated just two caps from appearances off the bench - nondescript outings last November against Italy in Chicago and the US at the Aviva.

The 24-year-old travelled to Australia last summer, just making the bench for the third Test, without making an entrance.

Then, the World Cup looked a world away when Joey Carbery's hamstring injury meant the Athy man was pulled from the Six Nations and Byrne was not the next man in line.

Jack Carty, on the back of his brilliance for Connacht, skipped ahead of Byrne during the spring, making three cameo appearances.

The new pecking order looked to be super-glued when Carty was listed on the reserves behind Carbery at the Aviva just two weeks ago.

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Now, Byrne has been given the nod to move past Carty again in one of the most difficult assignments in world rugby, which raises some intriguing questions around the pecking order in the Irish squad.

Why now? Are Ireland in secret crisis?

Could it be that the injuries to Carbery and Sexton are more significant than reported from inside the camp in Quinta do Lago?

That is all it would take to force Joe Schmidt into a rethink about a new way forward for Ireland.

For instance, the recovery (four-six weeks) of Carbery from an ankle injury, which required a minor procedure, may have been issued with a degree of optimism.

But assistant coach Richie Murphy has already admitted to a Plan B which involves working without the New Zealand-born game-breaker.

Based on Byrne's selection, this Plan B includes going to Japan without Carbery and with Carty and Byrne backing up Sexton.

It also raises the question: has Jack Carty missed his chance?

Was it significant that Schmidt reserved one of his few criticisms from the Italy outing for Jack Carty?

The supremo alluded to how the Roscommon man did not get to the pace of the game as quickly as Schmidt had wanted, before then improving.

Surely Carty - a playmaker with just four caps to his name, all off the bench - needs as many minutes as possible over the three warm-up games remaining if he is truly the third-choice option at out-half.

Or else, could it be that Byrne has been neck-and-neck with Carty in Carton House and in Portugal? Either way, this could be make-or-break for Byrne and, possibly, Carty too. Further still, it could well be that Byrne's calm demeanour is growing on Schmidt.

Byrne is a naturally composed individual and he, helpfully, takes that on to the field with him, which runs contrary to the player he is so often compared to - Sexton.

He is not a defence-shredding athlete or body-thumping tackler. Byrne is as steady as they come and unlikely to be fazed, even at Twickenham.

It would appear that Carty's head-start did not shake Byrne's self-belief or his attitude.

"I think he (Byrne) built his way through the season," said Schmidt yesterday.

"I thought he was, maybe, not as impressive as Jack early in the season."

It isn't always the first horse out of the gate that makes the first three at the winning post.

With a good performance tomorrow, Byrne may have timed his late surge to perfection.

Irish Independent

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