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'If we keep improving, we don’t know where they will end up' - Byrne backs Ireland to take down England

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Johnny Sexton will captain Ireland against England as Andy Farrell's men look to win a Triple Crown at Twickenham. Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

Johnny Sexton will captain Ireland against England as Andy Farrell's men look to win a Triple Crown at Twickenham. Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

SPORTSFILE

Johnny Sexton will captain Ireland against England as Andy Farrell's men look to win a Triple Crown at Twickenham. Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

SHANE Byrne is a player who knows what it takes to win in Twickenham and the ex-hooker believes the smooth coaching transition, which mirrors the evolution in his old position, will be key to unlocking the door to clinching the first piece of silverware in the Andy Farrell era.

As much as the decline of long-standing, double-Grand Slam winner Rory Best’s position was pin-pointed during Ireland’s 2019 slump, less obvious was the inherent difficulties of his understudies to attempt to usurp him.

Best’s many detractors were undermined by the inability of his challengers to realistically throw down the gauntlet – or throw enough pin-point darts – as they scrambled to become the next taxi off the rank.

The Irish captain’s self-awareness would not have been diminished when he himself revealed his difficulty in having to play twice in six days during the World Cup; while some may have carped at the coach’s selection policy, others will have agreed that his obvious lack of faith in Rob Herring and Niall Scannell was, at that time at least, justified.

Sean Cronin, so often a cause celebre given his consistent late impressions from the bench, might have hoped to propel himself into Farrell’s 2020 vision but losing his Leinster place clearly compromised his personal ambition.

The man coming into the type of form Farrell declared would be one of his primary factors in selection, Ronan Kelleher, saw his fine campaign interrupted by a fractured hand which, combined with the relative stasis in Scannell’s progress, left Herring as the prime candidate.

Best’s long-term understudy for both club and country wasn’t averse to indifferent form himself despite Ulster’s fine European campaign but, a bit like Ireland, he has steadily emerged as an impressive force in this season’s Guinness Sis Nations campaign.

"It’s been seamless," says Byrne, part of the Irish side which deservedly mugged the then-world champions on their own patch in 2004 en route to a first Irish Triple Crown in 29 years.

And he will be aiming to repeat the feat in the nearby Stoop on Friday night in the annual Legends clash between the countries.

“Rory was such an important cog in that amazingly successful team, he was vital to it," says Byrne, speaking as he and Glenisk launched a special one-off collection of "legen-dairy" playing cards.

"But the machine moves on and it’s great to see the new lads coming in and doing their stuff. Rob is probably playing better than he ever has and he’s maintaining he place.

"But we know the future is sitting on the bench so Rob is doing brilliantly to fend him off and that is what Ireland need.

"Rory didn’t have that competition and nobody tore it up so much that it would make it impossible to pick others because they were too inconsistent.

"Rob is ticking all the basic boxes, he is excellent in the set-piece and the tight. He is offering himself as a runner and his support play is very good. At no stage have you had to look out for him and wonder what he is doing.

"He’s just doing his job but doing it dynamically. We’ve seen what Ronan has done for Leinster and few players can do that off the bat at his age.

"But you can’t drop a guy who is in form. Before you can become a good footballer as a hooker, you first have to be a very good hooker. It’s the simple things. Work-rate, set-piece and carrying the ball.

"And having that base allows him to do all the other stuff in open play and he is excelling in that."

"After a sluggish start against the Scots, albeit one still converted into a morale-boosting win, Ireland moved up against a gear in smashing Grand Slam champions Wales and Byrne assumes a similar graph of improvement will be enough to convert a hat-trick of wins this Sunday.

"England haven’t got themselves together and this is their first chance to do that. They’re at home for the first time and they will want to make a statement very early.

"They always have the potential but things are working against them. They have injuries, they don’t pick the right things. Eddie Jones is not helping them.

"The first 20 minutes will show whether they can make a real statement or that Ireland’s progress curve continues.

"If England allow Ireland to start, Ireland will win because they are getting better. We didn’t expect much in the transition, we were hoping for an average Six Nations.

"But if we keep improving, we don’t know where they will end up. We saw that against Wales compared to Scotland. We locked out the defending Grand Slam champions. So if that graph improves, it will be more than enough to beat an English side."

Former Irish rugby international, Shane Byrne has mounted his own campaign following the release of Glenisk’s special edition Irish Rugby Legends Trading Cards. The Legends collection from Glenisk, the Official Yogurt of Irish Rugby, includes 15 special edition cards for rugby fans to collect, trade and play.

Online Editors