Time passes and Tadhg Beirne has become an integral part of Munster and Irish teams over the last five seasons. But after two transformative, career-defining campaigns with the Scarlets, during which he played 46 matches for the region, a game with Wales always holds a special resonance with him, especially in Cardiff.
“Of course. My wife is Welsh,” he said of his Bridgend-born wife Harriett Fuller. “Her whole family are Welsh so I’m over and back to Wales every so often. I had a brilliant time over there and I know a lot of people. I’ll come up against a few lads I played with, so it’s a cool fixture to get to play in.
“Like I said, my wife might be Welsh but she’ll be wearing green on Saturday,” he vowed with a smile.
The 31-year-old lock has become a world-class lock and although Beirne came within a year of qualifying for Wales through residency, as a proud son of Kildare that was never an option he really explored.
“I only ever wanted to play for Ireland. That was the reality and I think when it became a talking point that there was an opportunity to play for Ireland, the only thing I wanted to do was come back.
“I didn’t have a conversation with Warren [Gatland] but I did have a conversation with Wayne (Pivac) before I left Scarlets and he tried to encourage me to stay because he did say the World Cup was the following year and I’d be qualified for it and all that. But I think I’d made my decision before that, that I wanted to wear green for the World Cup, not to be in red.
“So it didn’t really cross my mind too much to be honest. If I felt I didn’t have a chance maybe it would have been a different conversation.”
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Welsh rugby is enduing another torrid time off the pitch and are looking to rebound from an annus horribilis in 2022 which featured just three wins out of 12 Tests and home defeats by Italy and Georgia. But Beirne speaks with insider knowledge when analysing what Ireland are likely to face in a capacity Principality Stadium in Saturday’s Six Nations opener (kick-off 2.15pm) from his two years playing alongside Welsh internationals and the passion they have for their flag, especially at home.
Beirne also has painful memories of his Six Nations debut in Cardiff when Wales sealed the Grand Slam with a commanding 25-7 win. Many of this Irish team also have “the massive lessons” from the corresponding Six Nations opener two seasons ago, when Peter O’Mahony was sent-off in a game which propelled Wales towards another title and one play of winning another Grand Slam.
“We showed a lot of character to stay in the game and put ourselves in a position to almost rob it back at the end and I think we learned a lot from that game,” he explains. “There were moments in that game that we just knocked off and we let them back into the game when we didn’t need to, when we were exiting our 22 and forcing a few things and making silly errors there.
“I feel like we’ve learned and we’ve come a long way since that day. I think if you watch that game and you compare that to how we play now, we’ve come a long way.
“Someone made the joke in here, ‘if you make a mistake how long does it last?’ and one of the lads said ‘30, 40 years’ but in the moment you have to move on pretty quickly. But that will always probably sit in the back of my mind because that was one of those games that we could have won but we didn’t so you just have to move on.”
True to Andy Farrell’s mantra, he is also happy for this Irish team to embrace their number one world ranking.
“No matter who we come up against, we have a target on our back. If we were playing the number one team, it would be the same thing, we’d want the scalp off them. It’s pretty exciting in my opinion and I look forward to the challenge when I get to be on the pitch, to being able to put our best foot forward and hopefully maintain that number one spot.”
An ever-present in the last two Championships, as well as last summer’s series win in New Zealand and unbeaten Autumn series, when asked about this Six Nations in the prism of a World Cup, Beirne made clear Ireland’s desire to shoot for a first title since 2018.
“We’re here to win. That’s what we want to do. You’re talking about experimenting, I don’t know if I’ll be here this time next year in the Six Nations. Who knows? I want to be involved in every single game I can be and I obviously want to win this Championship, I’ve never won it before.
“That’s the mindset of all of the players. And I think it’s pretty clear that’s the mindset of the coaches as well, that they want to win the Championship.”