‘I was on the brink of packing it in’: Tadhg Beirne didn’t expect his own meteoric rise

Munster forward went from Leinster exile to sure fire international after reviving career

Allowing for the defeat by France in Paris last weekend, it's doubtful any Irish player is more appreciative of his career right now than Tadhg Beirne. His stock has never been higher but even Beirne himself admits that at times he could never have envisaged signing a three-year IRFU central contract at the age of 30.

Beirne has effectively become an ever-present for Ireland since the outset of last year's Six Nations, starting nine matches out of ten and playing the last 33 minutes off the bench against the All Blacks, and only missing last summer's tests when on duty with the Lions in South Africa.

Released by Leinster in 2016 before rebuilding his career with the Scarlets and latterly Munster, his story could be an inspiration to any rejected player.

“Towards the end of my Leinster career certainly, most people know I was on the brink of packing it in and then through my Scarlets career I didn’t know if I would ever come back to Ireland. I suppose things just picked up towards the end of my first year and I kind of kicked on in my second year.


“But I don’t think I ever expected to get into a position that I’m in now where I’ve played with the Lions and had a good run of games starting for Ireland. Now to get a central contract as well, it’s a massive honour for me and it’s something I never really thought I’d get to in my career.”

A specialist lock in his Leinster days, under Wayne Pivac at the Scarlets he became a more versatile and rounded player.

“When I was in Leinster and Fogs (John Fogarty) was scrum coach there, he was always saying to me towards the end that I should be playing ‘6’. I was playing ‘6’ for Lansdowne under Mike (Ruddock) the odd time so I would have taken that opportunity if I was given it.

“But I didn’t get that opportunity until I went to Scarlets and I think adding that position to second row, and then obviously going on to play ‘8’ for Scarlets a few times as well, they’re massive learnings and incredible experiences on the field.

“Playing different positions definitely stands to you.”

Joe Schmidt wasted no time in blooding Beirne on the 2018 summer tour to Australia before he’d even made his Munster debut, and bringing him to the World Cup, before his career was interrupted by the fractured ankle he suffered in Munster’s European defeat by Saracens in December 2019.

But Beirne hasn’t looked back in the last 18 months and Ireland’s evolution under Andy Farrell has also maximized his handling skills and athleticism. He looks particularly comfortable as first receiver and, heck, there was even that 50:22 in Paris.

“I’ve learnt so much in this brand of rugby that Faz is about. It’s quite simple in terms of what he’s asking of us. It makes so much sense. You always feel like you’re involved in everything that is going on, on the field, which makes it incredibly enjoyable. Other types of game plan, you come in and out of the game, but what is being asked of us here, I’m involved every single time. It’s definitely some of the most enjoyable rugby I’ve been involved in for sure.”

That said, Ireland’s nine-game winning run came to an end last week in what was, Beirne admitted, a different dynamic.

“Firstly the stadium and crowd was like something I haven’t experienced before if I’m being honest. We played there before in an empty stadium when we had the Six Nations on the line a year and a half ago and we lost then as well but coming out to that crowd was an incredible experience.”

Both Beirne (113kg) and James Ryan (115kg) were giving away weight to Paul Willemse (126kg), if not so to Cameron Woki, while all four starting locks range between 6’ 5” and 6’ 7”, and Beirne does not concur with the prevailing view that the Irish pack were bullied.

“Against the size and the physicality they brought, I don’t think we were too far off it. We’ve looked back at that game and frustration would probably be the word coming out. We just left so many opportunities out there and I don’t think they outmuscled us as some are saying. I think it was down to poor decision making defensively and giving them soft shoulders. I think we’ll definitely work ourselves off and be better for it.”

Beirne played the last 20 minutes in Paris at blindside so although changes are expected for the Italian game next Sunday, and Iain Henderson is liable to be given a start, Beirne’s value to the match-day ‘23’ has been heightened.

He makes all the right noises about adapting to whatever Farrell wants, be it another start, bench duty or not being involved at all. But having earned his most consistent run of games in international rugby Beirne wants to keep that sequence going.