Van der Flier believes ‘incredible’ Byrne has temperament to cope
Flanker praises Ireland outhalf’s ‘steady head’ and ability to control the game
Ireland’s Garry Ringrose, Ross Byrne and Josh van der Flier after Ireland’s victory over Italy in Chicago last November. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho
At face value it would appear that Ross Byrne has been thrown into the white hot furnace of Twickenham in making his full Test debut against England tomorrow, with the forecast temperatures in the high 20s.
But as someone who has made his Test debut in the same ground, and knows Byrne’s game well, Josh van der Flier is among the plethora of team-mates who say the 24-year-old outhalf has the ice in his veins to cope.
“I’m a bit older than him,” says van der Flier, who is 25 and played with Byrne on the same UCD team in the All-Ireland League.
“He’s been brilliant. I would have played a couple of times on the ‘A’ team with him as well. Then, he kind of broke into the senior team with Leinster. It’s always tough for the younger guys, with a few more experienced players around, to come in and run the show but he comes in at training and in matches whenever he’s on and he’s telling everyone what needs to be done. He’ll be running the show just like Johnny would do when he’s playing.”
“He’s an incredible player, he controls the game really, really well. I absolutely love playing with him. He’s a very steady head and I’ve never seen him get panicked or flustered in a game. He’s very calm, controlled and a man you want running the show. It’s very exciting to be lining out with him, this time in Twickenham.”
Byrne has built up a fair body of work in his 71 games for Leinster, starting last season’s Heineken Champions Cup quarter-final against Ulster and both of Leinster’s last two Pro14 semi-finals wins over Munster as well as several pool games in Europe.
“From the moment he started playing with the Leinster senior team he’s been one of the leaders, one of the voices in training. He understands the game really well. He understands defences and what he expects of his forwards and backs.
“He’s very assured, he doesn’t seem to doubt himself at all and that’s very, very impressive to see working.”
Van der Flier made his Ireland debut in the 21-10 defeat at Twickenham in March 2016.
“It’s an incredible place, pretty unique. It’s one of those special grounds around the world that everyone wants to play at. I’m sure he’ll do what he does in every other game, perform well and be fully sure of himself, there’s no doubt.”
That debut was mixed for van der Flier in several ways. “I scored, but it was disallowed,” he recalls breezily in reference to the moment when Elliot Daly was adjudged to have held him up over the line.
“It’s tough to make an impact as you get used to the game. It’s a bit different on a big occasion but I was pleased with the performance and delighted to make my debut. But we lost so it was bittersweet in that way.”
“It was really special to make my debut in a place like Twickenham. There was a serious intensity. Noise levels there are pretty spectacular so it’s exciting for all of us this weekend.”
With the Saracens core of the pack, Mako Vunipola back for his first game since suffering a serious hamstring injury in May and Owen Farrell on the bench, Ireland will again have to cope with the power game which did for them at the Aviva in February and Leinster at St James’s Park in May.
“I think you can’t give them that momentum. They’re extremely dangerous, any of the games they’ve played in the last couple of years they get gainline, someone like Billy or Mako makes a big carry, they get quick ball and they’re very, very dangerous.”
“You can’t afford to give them that, don’t let them win the gainline and don’t let them get those quick rucks. That’s the key to it really. They’ve some incredible ball-carriers, but we’ve to try and shut them down. Once you shut them down and then you take away a major threat of theirs.”