Friends become foes as Tadhg Beirne returns to red of Munster

Adaptable forward gunning for Leinster after a very impressive Six Nations campaign

Tadhg Beirne returns to Munster duty in Saturday’s Pro14 final. Photograph: Morgan Treacy/Inpho

Tadhg Beirne returns to Munster duty in Saturday’s Pro14 final. Photograph: Morgan Treacy/Inpho

 

Odd times indeed. When they’ve not been training and playing together, they’ve generally been trying to knock lumps out of each other, and so it continues. Saturday’s Pro14 final at the RDS (kick-off 5pm) marks the fourth time since the resumption last August that Munster and Leinster have met each other, and interspersed with this glut of derbies, Ireland have played 11 times.

Back in 2016, the two provinces met a fortnight after completing the 2016 Six Nations with a win over Scotland at the Aviva Stadium when Leinster beat Munster 16-13 at the RDS. But that was a regular season game, whereas Saturday’s fourth clash since the resumption last August is with a coveted trophy on the line.

Even the 2006 and 2009 Heineken Cup semi-finals meetings were five and six weeks after the conclusion of the Six Nations. By contrast, after prolonged camps in bio-secure bubbles, this is a swift re-adjustment from squadmates to arch enemies.

“I think the most challenging thing is the systems, the calls and stuff and just to catch up on that stuff straight away,” says Tadhg Beirne, who played in last September’s semi-final, the re-arranged Pro14 meeting at Thomond Park in January which preceded the Six Nations and has played in nine of Ireland’s 11 Tests since October.

“In terms of flicking a switch on the day of a final, it is a final at the end of the day. We have not won silverware here for 10 years. There is not going to be a problem flicking a switch. Everyone in here is incredibly competitive and everyone wants to win, so that is definitely not going to be a problem.”

Biggest wave

At 29, Beirne comes into this final on the crest of the biggest wave of his career, having been an ever-present in the Six Nations and a contender for player of the tournament as well, although Beirne admits his initial goal was to make the squad and then break into the matchday 23.

“To be honest when I was going in I thought there was a good chance I’d probably be 24th man for the first few games, with Iain Henderson back fit, James Ryan there and Quinn Roux playing.

Tadhg Beirne celebrates winning a scrum penalty during Ireland’s win over England. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho
Tadhg Beirne celebrates winning a scrum penalty during Ireland’s win over England. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

“Then unfortunately for Quinn he had to step away because he got injured and then to my surprise I got the nod to start against Wales. So it was a massive opportunity for me and thankfully I managed to put in a performance good enough to retain my position, and I continued to do so throughout the campaign, which was obviously a massive positive from a personal point of view.”

Few could begrudge him the rub of the green after the fractured ankle he suffered against Saracens in January 2020 which ruled him out of last year’s Six Nations and ultimately sidelined him for eight months.

“I suppose when you do sit down and think about it, it has been a hell of a journey. I’m certainly enjoying it. There has obviously been a lot of ups and downs and this time last year if you told me I would be in this position a year ago I certainly wouldn’t have thought it.”

Beirne played in the secondrow in the opening two games against Wales and France, and after man of the match performances at blindside in the wins over Italy and Scotland, his influence was no less pronounced when reverting to lock against England last Saturday. Three more turnovers in the jackal took his tournament tally to 10, the most by any player in the 2021 Six Nations.

While his preference can be “system dependent”, he admits: “From a personal point of view, in the systems with Ireland and Munster, I do generally prefer to play in the (second) row, as I seem to be able to get a little bit more involved and I do enjoy being involved as much as I can in a game. Preference-wise, it always depends on the system that the coaches are asking of you but for now it’s definitely in the row.”

Scarlets

Beirne was a try-scoring, standout player in the Scarlets’ 46-22 win over Munster in the 2016-17 final at the Aviva Stadium and takes encouragement from the way the media wrote off the Welsh region before the final.

“I am not too sure where all your heads are at, but a lot of youse (journalists) could already be writing us off because everyone has Leinster on that pedestal. But we are quietly confident in here. We are backing ourselves and we feel like we will be able to get the win on Saturday.”

Whether survivors from the Magners League final win over Leinster in Thomond Park 10 seasons ago, such as Keith Earls and Conor Murray, or one of those yet to win a trophy with the province, Beirne says “there are all different kinds of motivations there for different people, but everyone knows you don’t get too many opportunities to play in a final.”

Tadhg Beirne scores a try for the Scarlets during their 2017 Pro12 final win over Munster. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho
Tadhg Beirne scores a try for the Scarlets during their 2017 Pro12 final win over Munster. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

Furthermore, while players come and go at the end of every season, rarely does a province say goodbye to stalwarts like Billy Holland and CJ Stander simultaneously.

“I would love nothing more than to be able to help Billy and CJ walk away in their final year with a trophy and some silverware,” Beirne admits.

“That is something we would all love for them to be able to say that they won the Pro14 in their last year here, so that does not change the goal or anything, but it certainly gives us motivation too.”

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