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Sexton provides the quality on another frustrating day for Harry Byrne

Leo Cullen is hopeful Byrne’s injury isn’t too bad after the 22-year-old was forced off against Zebre on Saturday.

Harry Byrne suffered a hip injury against Zebre.
Harry Byrne suffered a hip injury against Zebre.
Image: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

ACROSS THE EARLY stages of this new-look rugby season, Leo Cullen has repeatedly stressed the fact that there will be limited opportunities for players to force their way into his thinking.

The structure of the United Rugby Championship is expected to lead to less experimentation across the board when it comes to team selection.

Those strange, diluted league fixtures that ran alongside Test windows are a thing of the past, so club teams will no longer face extended blocks of games without the services of their international stars.

With that in mind, spare a thought for Harry Byrne. The young out-half had a bad run of it with injuries last season, and that continued yesterday as he made his seasonal bow against Zebre.

Byrne had a difficult start against the Italians, missing the target with two early conversion attempts while also making some disappointing errors in open play.

His afternoon then came to an early end after Zebre flanker Iacopo Bianchi crashed into his hip with a little over 20 minutes on the clock. 

harry-byrne-receives-medical-attention Harry Byrne was forced off with a hip injury mid-way through the first half. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

The full extent of Byrne’s injury isn’t clear just year, but with just two more rounds of fixtures before the competition breaks for a month, it could be a while yet before Byrne can properly get up and running for the campaign.

Yesterday was another frustrating outing for Byrne, a player bursting with potential, but one whose career is still waiting to really ignite. 

“Whatever about my frustration, I’m sure Harry’s feeling more frustrated,” said Leinster head coach, Leo Cullen. 

“It’s the nature of the game – he gets a bang on his hip and he’s in a bit of discomfort so we’ll see how he is. Hopefully he’s not too bad. It stiffened up fairly quickly there.

“There’s a reasonably experienced replacement at hand so from the team’s point of view, it didn’t affect them to a huge amount. Hugely frustrating for Harry. These things happen.”

That “reasonably experienced replacement” was of course, Johnny Sexton.

johnny-sexton-makes-a-pass Sexton had a major influence on the game following his introduction. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Now 36, the veteran outhalf has looked sharp across his few cameos this season, the hope being that his extended break from the game over the summer will stand to him over the coming months. 

Against Zebre, Sexton brought the usual control and added a few nice moments of creativity to inject some life into Leinster’s game, playing a key role in Adam Byrne’s two tries with some accurate passing both from the hand and with the boot, his contribution enough to land him the man of the match award.

It’s closing in on 16 years since he made his Leinster debut, and as it stands, it doesn’t look like the Sexton show will be ending any time soon.

“He could be around for quite a while (yet),” Cullen said. “I see Tom Brady still pulling the strings at 44. I was contemplating a comeback myself when I saw that!

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“Johnny trained really well over the course of pre-season. And even just for him to be around – he missed out obviously on the (Lions) tour and not playing in the summer series (for Ireland), obviously that’s disappointing for him but we were definitely the beneficiaries of that in terms of the cohesion of training that he’s able to build with some of the younger players in particular.

“So you’re seeing the fruits of that since the start of the season, in the Quins game (pre-season), the Bulls game and today again. So it’s good that he’s had that consistency of training with our guys. We probably never had that for such an extended period.

“The competition at 10 is good. You obviously want to see the lads push on but that’s the nature of it and Johnny is rejuvenated as well, so we are open-minded about all these things.”

The competition may be good, but Sexton still stands clear of the chasing pack after Byrne’s latest opportunity to impress passed by in a flash.

Hopefully his next one arrives sooner rather than later.

Bernard Jackman, Murray Kinsella and Gavan Casey chat all things Connacht, Munster, Leinster and Ulster — and welcome back the AIL — on The42 Rugby Weekly


Source: The42 Rugby Weekly/SoundCloud

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Ciarán Kennedy

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