Leinster young guns find strength in numbers
Josh van der Flier has no fears that replacement outhalf Byrne can step up to mark
Josh van der Flier has full faith in 21-year-old outhalf Ross Byrne. Photograph: Donall Farmer/Inpho
Leinster outhalf Ross Byrne was an assured presence in Franklin’s Gardens against Northampton. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho
The integration of young players from Leinster’s academy to the senior side last season and during the current campaign has rightly been heralded but this layer of success has been diligently constructed over a number of seasons.
Ross Byrne will start in the number 10 jersey for Leinster against the Northampton Saints at the Aviva Stadium on Saturday, having admirably grown into his Champions Cup debut when coming on as a replacement for Joey Carbery 16 minutes into last Friday’s clash between the sides at Franklin’s Gardens.
Byrne boasts an impressive pedigree as an age-grade international but the manner in which he, like several other players, fitted seamlessly into the senior side highlighted just how familiar those players are with each other. Several have built relationships on the pitch in St Michael’s College, several more have done the same at UCD, and playing for Leinster A in the British & Irish Cup has accelerated the process of familiarity .
Josh van der Flier played with Byrne at UCD and Leinster A and knows the outhalf’s qualities well. He said: “He’s a really brilliant player [who has] worked really, really hard. I was lucky to play with him as well a couple of years ago with the As and he’s one of those players who just bosses everyone around him.
“He controls the game really well and has very high standards for himself as well, so I think you saw that, how well he did when he came on in a tight situation at the weekend and contributed towards the win.”
But for injury, the 21-year-old Byrne might have progressed even more quickly but what helped him settle is that players like Luke McGrath, Garry Ringrose, Adam Byrne, van der Flier, James Tracy and Rory O’Loughlin are former teammates from school or college days, or both.
Van der Flier continued: “He’s very calm. If he ever makes a mistake in training, he’s straight back into it; he doesn’t show any emotion at all. He’s very good in that way. You see the all the lads who have made debuts this year and played well.
“You can tell they have been working hard behind the scenes because you don’t get to play well at that professional level without putting the hard work in. I think it’s a testament to the coaching, as well as the hard work they have all put in.”
The job is only half-done as the Northampton Saints demonstrated three years ago that they have the capacity to come to Dublin and win after suffering a heavy home defeat. But when the going gets tough, as it invariably will, being surrounded by a handful of familiar faces, should instil a little confidence.