Comeback kid Adam Byrne rises to test of international occasion
‘I just needed to stay focused on the game. It’s been incredible. I can’t wait to reflect on it’
Ireland’s Adam Byrne eyes Argentina’s Joaquin Tuculet under the dropping ball. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho
It is not so unusual that a journey’s end becomes a journey’s beginning. A fractured ankle, a torn bicep a dose of syndesmosis (ankle strain) that required surgery, in 2014 a broken fibula in his right leg and Adam Byrne was thinking to himself whatever next.
Cursed with misfortune, his choice of rugby over Gaelic football or soccer seemed all too perverse. But then on Saturday despite cautioning himself not to, a tear found its way to his cheek during the national anthem.
No real reason for it. No reflection on an injured past and a first battle won. It was the place, pitch, band, crowd, linked arms, President, jersey, the moment.
“You know, it was extremely emotional,” he says. “I tried to tell myself I wouldn’t; I tried to not let the emotions get to me. But it’s been something I’ve looked at since I was a little kid and it is hard to keep them under control when the anthem’s playing.
It was a really nice mixture of nerves and excitement and I kind of like that
“From finding out on the Tuesday, that was incredible, and then getting over that, Wednesday was a day off and the team was announced on Thursday. My phone has been hopping.
“It was a really nice mixture of nerves and excitement and I kind of like that. I just needed to stay focused on the game. It’s been incredible. I can’t wait to really reflect on it.”
Of the 36 players Joe Schmidt used over the three November Test matches Byrne’s first cap was the surprise package. Always a player of outstanding athletic ability and with a nose for the whitewash, questions remained as to whether the nuts and bolts of the more mundane task of defending would be sacrificed for his energetic go-forward instincts.
There was a sort of irony in his selection in that while the right wing is a position of attack and menace, which gives Byrne his edge, he was going to be judged on the more disciplined and calculating tasks of covering, tackling and being in position.
“I was just trying to make sure I knew my detail as much as possible for the wing, I was probably maybe a little bit naive not looking at 13 as much but that’s the thing with the team, everyone rallied behind me and looked out for me,” he says.
“When I started rugby I was on the wing and then I slowly moved in. I think I got as far as playing 12 actually at UCD for a bit and then I moved back out.
“Under-18s, under-19s, I played a bit in the centre and full-back. Hopefully I’ll get a chance again in different positions, it’s obviously nice as well if you’re 23 to be able to cover a few positions.”
Yeah, once the move was called I was looking at the opposite winger
Byrne’s first action with the ball was a charge out of the Irish 22 after five minutes. Just enough time to take in the crowd, the eyes on him, he kicked to Nicolas Sanchez who cleared to touch. On 10 minutes Connor Murray hoiked a cross field ball to Byrne inside Argentina’s 22 but the spin brought it backwards on the bounce. Close, but no cigar.
“Yeah, once the move was called I was looking at the opposite winger (Emiliano Boffelli). He’s good in the air so once I’d seen him going infield I knew it was me against the scrum-half and I’d back myself in the air anyway against most people,” he says.
“I was just hoping the kick would be hanging enough so I could get underneath it but unfortunately it wasn’t to be.”
In his head too there is recognition by someone he respects
That was the closest he got to the dream try-scoring Irish debut. But there were tackles on Ramiro Moyano, Boffelli, Matias Moroni and replacement Jeronimo De La Fuente in a scrambling game with few chances to use his gas in space.
With the Lansdowne Road air in his nostrils the 23-year-old has a taste for it. The cap and the first game is done. In his head too there is recognition by someone he respects.
“The thing that I like most is that he (Joe Schmidt) just treated me like anyone else,” says Byrne. “I try to take as much on board and try not to mess up.”
How far he has come and now the newly minted challenge of how far he will go.