Gordon D’Arcy: Adam Byrne’s blue lines will see his time come

Winger epitomises so much of what is good about Leinster’s attack right now

Adam Byrne’s arrival from a lovely hidden position off the blind wing against Castres was all but unreadable. His acceleration allowed him ghost through the gap. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

Adam Byrne’s arrival from a lovely hidden position off the blind wing against Castres was all but unreadable. His acceleration allowed him ghost through the gap. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

 

That Adam Byrne was overlooked for the extended Ireland squad shows the depth of wing options Joe Schmidt has entering the Six Nations.

Adam’s time will come and, should all the stars align, Will Greenwood might prove correct; he could follow the Keith Earls trajectory from 2009 when Earls’ Munster form saw him tour South Africa with the Lions.

Same can be said about an uncapped Greenwood on the 1997 tour.

So much has changed about the Lions since but the tradition of picking an uncapped player should not go by the wayside.

Greenwood, naming his Lions XV over the weekend, had Byrne on the right wing.

However hard it is to take Will seriously with that bow tie, there’s plenty of substance behind his opinion.

That said, I understand why Andrew Conway and Tommy Bowe are named ahead of Byrne for the opening two rounds of the championship. Andrew Trimble is the incumbent number 14, Conway is showing consistent form for Munster and Tommy is probably the greatest winger to ever play for Ireland (obviously, that still counts).

Joe avoids, when possible, fast tracking a player into the Ireland team.

Remember, Garry Ringrose was left at home last summer while Joey Carbery’s rise in November was due to Johnny Sexton and Ian Madigan injuries.

Schmidt knows all about Adam having capped him for Leinster when he was only 18.

In the summer of 1998 I spent my days moving between Leinster training and the IRFU Academy under Steven Aboud.

Initially, Steve and the teenage version of myself didn’t see eye to eye. His one size fits all approach to coaching isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. Despite our personality clash, it was obvious that Aboud knew his stuff, and I eventually took enormous value from his coaching.

Conor O’Shea understands this and the young Italian rugby players, now under Steve’s tutelage, would do well to pay heed in the coming years.

It took a while for the penny to drop but one of his messages stayed relevant in every match I played over the next 17 years.

“Sheedy-hodee” - translation: “Later is better” - was pertinent simply because in the heat of battle you can always accelerate onto the ball but never reverse.

How to disguise your run was also something Steve preached. If a player can run a strike line out of a defenders peripheral vision and at pace then only good things will follow. “Run like you are getting the ball,” was another mantra.

Leinster’s backline are delivering all these fundamentals at the moment. It’s why they are so hard to contain.

On Friday night they pulled level with Castres thanks to a Dan Leavy try that was created by multiple moving parts.

Rewind several phases to the 61st minute. Leinster pull off Josh van der Flier and Luke McGrath with Leavy and Jamison Gibson-Park arriving just before James Tracy’s lineout throw on the Castres 22.

The attack goes across the pitch, left to right, before carries by Tadhg Furlong and Jamie Heaslip bring play into a central position with the Leinster backline stacked to the left.

Presumably, Ross Byrne called a pre-planned move. Robbie Henshaw ran a drifting line while Ringrose switches from outside to in, fixing three defenders in the process.

Rob Kearney and Rory O’Loughlin held their width.

Everyone is clued into their individual roles which forces the Castres defenders into making decisions. Ross Byrne held onto the ball long enough (without eating up the space between the players outside him) with the ball ‘locked’ - ready to pass - so as to keep the Castres players honest.

Henshaw and Ringrose don’t touch the ball but Ireland will benefit from the precision and harmony of their running lines. Both of them cover three or four strides, at different speeds, at the very moment Byrne’s passing motion is moving through his mid-section.

Three of the four defenders bank on Ringrose taking the pass with the fourth marking Henshaw.

This and the timing of Ross Byrne’s pass and Adam Byrne’s subtle change of direction tears a hole in the Castres fabric.

Ross Byrne had four options - carry, send Ringrose through the front door, skip to Robbie or use the hidden runner. He makes the correct pass to slip Adam through the smallest gap.

It’s a real winger’s line. Denis Hickie did this countless times throughout his career. That space only existed for a split second.

Some of the players are taking their cue to accelerate off the scrumhalf pass, others off Ross.

Now, look at this scenario from the defenders’ perspective. Three Castres players have made good decisions based on what they can see unfolding.

Ross Byrne’s movement and holding the ball in both hands with the Leinster centres running hard like they are getting the ball forces them to commit.

Adam Byrne’s arrival from a lovely hidden position off the blind wing is all but unreadable. His acceleration allowed him ghost through the gap.

A gap that is so hard to create but ever so satisfying when you do. If one of the defenders cops it at the last moment, and steps in, then Adam keeps his hands down, becoming the decoy, and Robbie is away.

Trust is another major factor. The pass from Ross Byrne is into a space where he thinks Adam will be and in return Adam is running to where he thinks Ross is going to put it. There are are lots of variables in this and practice mitigates a lot of the risk, purposeful practice rises the percentages even more and completing it in such a pressurised match situation solidifies the believe that Leinster can do this again, and again.

Another small point - and I’m getting overly technical now! - is that the longer Adam stays inside the ball, essentially behind Ross on a lateral running line, the harder it is to see him.

Adam was tackled by Pierre Berard, the fullback, but quick ball is secured by O’Loughlin, Kearney and Furlong forcibly removing desperate Castres bodies, as they attempted to dive over the tackled man.

Jack Conan carries and his offload all but resulted in a Jack McGrath try. Berard got back to kill the ball, getting sin-binned for his troubles, but three phases after the resulting scrum Leavy powered over.

Now, every team does their research in rugby these days so the next opposition Leinster face will have Adam Byrne well marked.

This is exactly what Ross Byrne or whoever plays at outhalf will factor into their decision making process. The more you run these plays the less it becomes about the play and more about reacting to the defenders.

There is always scope for some Quade Cooper, or Joey Carbery, magic trick but mostly the obvious move done well will deliver the score.

That’s how the All Blacks operate.

Leinster’s party piece from 2009 to 2013 was the Johnny Sexton loop.

The fact that teams expected us to do it challenged us to open them up by tweaking it slightly, bluffing the defence, either by myself and Brian swapping roles or incorporating a dummy switch into the loop.

When a team has you sussed, add in a variation.

Another old move, this time designed for Shane Horgan, saw Robbie run in his second try last Friday. Off a solid scrum Ross Byrne signalling for the ball created a one-on-one for Adam with outhalf Julien Dumora, who he ran clean through.

The change of direction by Robbie and how he fought through the Castres debris to arrive on Adam’s shoulder is equally impressive.

That’s almost impossible to defend. Break the first tackle, ride the second, keep your head up and transfer the ball into the offloading hand - that’s a training ground move translated into seven points in the south of France.

Not bad.

People criticising this performance should look at the lack of experience on the pitch when Isa Nacewa followed Johnny off after just 36 minutes.

Considering those circumstances the draw, secured despite all that late pressure from Castres forwards, will prove of serious benefit should Leinster beat Wasps and set up a Champions Cup semi-final against Clermont or Toulon at a soccer stadium in France.

It took every ounce of Leinster’s player, coaching and support resources to beat Clermont in Bordeaux in that 2012 semi-final. The current squad are not at that level yet. Most of them are only at the start of their journey but they remind me of those early years under Michael Cheika when we found our rhythm and things started clicking in big games.

It was a great time to be playing rugby for Leinster. I’d imagine the current squad are enjoying life at the moment.

Clips courtesy of Sky Sports

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