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Wednesday 17 July 2019

Byrne is playing it cool

Out-half has to pass Carty to make RWC

GOOD HUMOUR: Ross Byrne during Leinster squad training at Rosemount in UCD. Pic: Sportsfile
GOOD HUMOUR: Ross Byrne during Leinster squad training at Rosemount in UCD. Pic: Sportsfile

Ross Byrne lives and plays in that unsatisfactory middle ground between chasing and being chased.

The dominating presence of Jonathan Sexton has the 24-year-old labelled as second best in Leinster.

This is not to dismiss Byrne's increasing comfort in tak ing the reins when Sexton cannot hold them.

"It is probably just another year of being in the senior team, another year of experience, to be honest.

"Besides that, I feel more comfortable, more settled," he said.

This was recently demonstrated in Byrne role in seeing off Ulster in a tense Champions Cup quarter-final.

There is an unflappable air about the ice-cool, playmaker with the warm personality. He certainly needed to show his mental strength when shaking off heavy cramping to strike the winning penalty against Ulster.

"I had to get that one after missing two earlier in the game," he smiled.

"It's happened to me before a few times.

"It was just a case of 'kick' and wait for the cramp to come."

It was a match-winning moment in a match disconnected Leinster should have lost.

Earlier in the season, the emergence of Jack Carty onto the international stage has meant Byrne has slipped from third to fourth choice for Ireland, for the moment.

"Jack has been playing phenomenally well for Connacht," Byrne acknowledged.

"I actually thought he did quite well when he came on for Ireland as well."

This is around about the time that the rugby mantra to 'control the controllables' comes to mind.

"For me, it's just a case of trying to improve my game," he shared.

"Any chance I can get here in Leinster to be the best I can be and push Leinster into the places we want to go.

"The better I play, the better Leinster play and, if Leinster do well, it looks good for me."

The reality is Byrne has to do enough to force Joe Schmidt to reverse this order at the business end of the season.

Out of reach

In this regard, as long as Carty holds his form for the last round of the PRO14 and forever how long Connacht's play-offs last, the World Cup looks just out of reach.

The decision of Joey Carbery to exit Leinster for Munster released the pressure on Byrne to make a move too.

It was never really on the cards as the out-half was playing and learning at an accelerated speed last season, while Leinster preferred to see Carbery at full-back.

No sooner had Carbery committed to an extended stay at Munster than younger brother Harry Byrne began to show his value in guiding Ireland towards an U20 Six Nations Grand Slam. Little brother will become a big problem for Byrne from next season as the next out-half to challenge the 'status quo.'

When it was put to Byrne that Harry had achieved something he couldn't with the Ireland U20s, there was a typically good-humoured response.

"I was delighted for him, but gutted for him to miss the last two games because he was there last year and played all of every game.

"He played very well in the games he played and, hopefully, they will go on to the World Cup and be reasonably successful there."

What about the siblings becoming serious rivals next season? "He's got a long way to go," grinned big brother.

For the moment, Byrne will focus on doing to Ulster in Belfast on Saturday (KO5.15, Eirsport 1) what he did to them in the Aviva.

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