Ross Byrne: Understudy ready to step into a central role for Leinster
The 23-year-old will need all his quiet calm if he dons the Number 10 shirt on Saturday
Leinster’s Ross Byrne in action against Connacht in the Guinness PRO14 at the RDS, Dublin on December 22nd. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho
Unflappable on the pitch, laconic in a media scrum, Ross Byrne exudes a quiet calm. At least that’s his public persona. Even in his days as an age-grade international, he demonstrated tremendous self-possession no matter what the pressure.
It is one of his qualities and a cherished one for an outhalf. When he makes a mistake on the pitch he doesn’t retreat into a shell – he’ll still be there front and centre trying to do the right thing.
The 23-year-old has made 60 appearances (293 points) for Leinster since his debut in September 2015 and for most of the intervening period has been in an uneven three-cornered tussle for game time with Jonathan Sexton and Joey Carbery until the latter’s departure for Munster in the summer.
He’s had to be patient in the role of understudy, but that was rewarded at national level when he won his first Ireland cap in replacing Carbery against Italy at Soldier Field in Chicago, and grabbed a second in the final test of the November series against the USA.
On Saturday night at the RDS he seems certain to be handed the number 10 jersey as Leinster head coach Leo Cullen juggles his resources for the final interprovincial of a three-match block against Ulster and ahead of upcoming Champions Cup games against Toulouse in Dublin and Wasps in the Ricoh Arena in Coventry.
The disappointment of last weekend’s defeat to Munster has been replaced by a resolution to fix the technical issues and restore the equilibrium to the playing patterns. Ulster may be without several frontline players, which makes Leinster’s preparation a little trickier in analysis terms, but, as Byrne pointed out, the squad are looking inwards rather than dwelling too much on their opponents.
“I suppose you kind of have to prepare for everything that can happen because we don’t know what team they’re going to pick. But, to be honest, there will be a big focus on us this week. That’s a big thing from the weekend: we need to look at ourselves. We played some very good stuff, but there were opportunities where we probably missed a few chances. So we’ll definitely be looking to fix that.”
The more you get exposed to this level, the more you learn, and you just have to take that learning and put it into action
The fact that this match pits conference rivals against each other – Leinster are 16 points ahead of second-placed Ulster – adds a little spice. Byrne conceded: “We have a reasonable lead at the moment and we want to maintain that. We don’t want to give them a sniff of trying to catch us. It’s crucial that we get a win and then to build a bit of momentum going into Europe as well.”
Byrne is well versed in the drill of being handed the number 10 jersey. It doesn’t matter who are the personnel around him – he’ll look to drive and manage the team, putting them in the right areas and then looking to vary the point of attack.
His game is developing under the tutelage of Felipe Contepomi and Stuart Lancaster and, while he acknowledged that it has improved over the past couple of seasons, he’s pragmatic when it comes to assessing that development.
“The more you get exposed to this level, the more you learn, and you just have to take that learning and put it into action. It’s all well and good saying you’ve learnt something, but if you’re not actually delivering on it the following week or the week after that, then it is pointless.
“I’ve managed to play in a number of big games, and to be in the Ireland set-up as well is brilliant. I’m just looking to hopefully push on. Obviously I have longer-term goals, but in a period like this in the season where it’s so busy and so crucial, I don’t think you can look at them. It’s definitely just week by week.”
He cites the number of tries that Ulster have scored this season and how dangerous their three quarter line can be given space, but the preoccupation is solely on trying to ensure that his team fires at the RDS on Saturday evening. Just going about his job quietly.