Murray Kinsella reports from Sydney
IF ROSS BYRNE gets off the bench on Saturday at Allianz Stadium, it will mean Joe Schmidt has used all 32 players in the squad he brought to Australia for what has been a riveting Test series so far.
To be fair, John Cooney got just two minutes off the bench in the second Test, while Kieran Marmion played three in the opening clash with the Wallabies.
The depth at scrum-half, or rather the lack of game time for Conor Murray’s understudies, remains something of a concern, although Marmion will hope to clock up a few more minutes of game time off the bench on Saturday.
At out-half, Joey Carbery’s start in the first Test and a five-minute run last weekend in Melbourne will have been beneficial, while Leinster man Byrne is now set for his debut as a replacement against the Wallabies.
The 23-year-old came on tour off the back of a consistent season with Leinster, where he has been an important squad member even though he has missed out on making the match day squads for several of the province’s biggest games.
Byrne has already been playing plenty of games but Carbery’s move to Munster should allow him to feature more often in the Champions Cup and the Pro14 play-offs games next season.
A first cap for Ireland in Australia this weekend would set the former St. Michael’s College student up nicely ahead of the 2018/19 campaign.
Byrne has impressed Schmidt and his coaching staff with his diligence on the training ground on this tour of Australia.
“He’s been super and that was probably always part of the plan, really, to make sure that Joey Carbery got a start on the tour and Ross Byrne got an opportunity at some stage,” said Schmidt.
“We’ll see how the game is going as to how much and what it looks like for Ross to get onto the pitch but he’s trained really well.”
Interestingly, Byrne has been learning more than one role in preparation for providing bench cover in the third Test.
Schmidt always places a premium on his replacements being as well prepared as his starters, as well as their ability to come on in more than one position.
“He’s a smart kid, he’s picked things up really quickly, he’s been flexible,” said Schmidt.
“He’s had to move around a little bit, which has given us confidence because whenever you’re putting someone on the bench, to have some sort of flexibility to play a couple of positions is really important.
“That’s been an asset as well, having Ross move around a little bit from 10 to 12. If he can cover those two, Jordan Larmour just about ticks every other box.”
If Byrne gets off the bench, he will become the 35th new cap Schmidt has called on since the 2015 World Cup, with Tadhg Beirne having been the 34th last weekend.
That 2015 tournament showed up Ireland’s lack of depth at out-half, but Schmidt will feel he is continuing to move towards a far better place ahead of the 2019 version.
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