Wednesday 23 October 2019

Tadhg Beirne could have worn the red of Wales but he's more than happy to be a green giant

Tadhg Beirne: 'Thinking that far back, the dream was to play for Ireland and ultimately get here.' Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Tadhg Beirne: 'Thinking that far back, the dream was to play for Ireland and ultimately get here.' Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Cian Tracey

Cian Tracey

In another world, Tadhg Beirne could be here in Japan representing Wales and not Ireland.

One more season with the Scarlets would have seen the Kildare native qualify for Wales, based on World Rugby's three-year residency rule.

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It's not impossible to imagine that scenario unfolding, but such was his outstanding form for the Welsh club it always seemed like a matter of time before he returned to these shores.

Doing so midway through a World Cup cycle meant that he was facing an uphill battle to force his way into the reckoning and then, when you consider that he had never been capped, Beirne had a lot of ground to make up in a short space of time.

He managed to do so, however, and Wales' loss has certainly been Ireland's gain, as he adds a versatile and dynamic option to the pack.

When Beirne was released from Leinster in 2016, which left him scrambling around for a new club, the Scarlets not only offered his career a lifeline, but also a chance to put himself in the running to play at this World Cup.

"Thinking that far back, the dream was to play for Ireland and ultimately get here," Beirne (right) reflects.

"It was all worth it in the end. If I was still in Wales, who knows, I could have ended up being here if Warren Gatland had picked me.

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"But my goal was to play for my own country and that's why I came back. Luckily enough, I am here.

"When the Scarlets came to me first, they said that, and things can change in a year - who knows where I could have been?"

AJ MacGinty is one of four Irish players included in USA's World Cup squad, while Shane O'Leary and Peter Nelson will line out for Canada in Japan.

Beirne's path very nearly led him to wearing another red jersey in Wales, but instead, he returned to Ireland and wore Munster's red.

Impressive

After an impressive first season, the 27-year-old has become a vital part of the Munster team, where, just as he was with the Scarlets, he is often given a free role by Johann van Graan.

The international set-up under Joe Schmidt is very different, however, which has been a challenge, as Beirne explains: "I think with Munster I probably go out of the system a bit at times and you might see me wandering behind a few players looking to attack rucks.

"I've spoken to Johann and JP (Ferreira) about doing that. They're more than happy for me to do it because sometimes it can be successful. If you don't take the ball then you're slowing it down.

"Coming into international rugby, it's another step up and teams are a bit more consistent around the ruck area, so it can be a lot harder to steal the ball and if I'm going out of that system at all, it could lead to a try.

"It can more than likely cost a game so it's very important to stay within the system defensively and not chase rucks, like I probably do at times with Munster.

"It suited me and a few of the old lads with the way we defended at Scarlets. I was allowed to go after a lot of rucks. If it wasn't for that then I wouldn't be standing here today. That helped me stand out a bit at times.

"A sign of any good player is being able to fit into any system. I'm trying to fit into a system here and I think I'm doing all right so far."

Beirne sat down with Schmidt at the start of the summer and the Ireland head coach explained that, even though he was happy with how he played in the second-row with Munster, he wanted to get him game-time in the back-row, which he duly did during pre-season.

"Defensively, you are probably a bit more vulnerable at times because you tend to push the tight-five inside you and you could be up against a back and be covering a bit more space," he adds.

"From that perspective, it's probably a little bit more difficult but otherwise, I am pretty comfortable in both positions.

"We had one-on-ones with all the coaches at the start of the pre-season and they said the one thing they wanted me to focus on was to improve my defence within the Irish system. I've worked really hard on that, in terms of doing video and looking back at where I can improve there. I think I've definitely improved over the course of the last few weeks.

"I've seen it myself. To the normal eye, a lot of people probably haven't seen it, but I've been pretty happy with how it's gone."

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