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Dublin: 8 °C Thursday 19 September, 2019
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Ireland's shortcomings limit Byrne's chance to show his qualities

The 24-year-old Leinster man started well but struggled more as Ireland crumbled.

ROSS BYRNE BEGAN well on his first start for Ireland against England yesterday, firing off a few crisp passes and slotting a conversion impressively from wide on the left after Jordan Larmour finished an excellent turnover try in the ninth minute.

The Leinster man soon added in two cross-field kicks, the first seeing Elliot Daly lose the ball into touch for an Irish lineout, the second landing in Rob Kearney’s hands as Byrne looked to beat the English rush.

ross-byrne-passes-the-ball Byrne started the game brightly. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

The 24-year-old, winning his third cap, added in a clever long grubber around the quarter mark, recognising that Ireland weren’t going to breach the gainline near the halfway and refusing to go through phase after phase. Instead, he sought touch deep in England’s half and let his forwards compete at the lineout. 

Byrne also calmly slotted a 45-metre penalty that Iain Henderson had won at the breakdown, showing his composure to edge Ireland 10-8 in front.

But, like the rest of his team, Byrne found it tough thereafter. England sent Manu Tuilagi thundering into his channel on a lineout attack and the Ireland out-half slipped off his tackle against the behemoth centre, while he was turned over near the England 22.

Ireland captain Rory Best had spoken before the game about the experienced players in this team making life easier for Byrne, allowing him to show his qualities, but the opposite happened in the scorching heat at Twickenham yesterday.

A 60% return on their own throw doesn’t tell the story of just how bad Ireland’s lineout was. Even many their ‘wins’ were scrappy and unplayable as Byrne was denied the kind of quality possession that an out-half needs to stamp their authority on a game. Any 10 would have struggled to impose themselves for Ireland yesterday.

To Byrne’s credit, he never shied away from attempting to get himself into the game, even with poor possession but, like others, there were times when it felt as though he was forcing his hand as Ireland tried to play catch-up.

ross-byrne-kicks-a-penalty Byrne kicked a penalty and a conversion. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

The dropped ball early in the second half came as Byrne spied out space in the backfield, while he connected poorly with an attempted clearance kick to find touch on the full after Ireland had passed back into the 22, England scoring off the resulting lineout.

Byrne did have an excellent short restart for Henderson to regain before he was replaced by Jack Carty in the 54th minute, Joe Schmidt having promised to give the Connacht man a fair share of game time at Twickenham too.

“It was tough for Ross,” said Schmidt post-match in London. “I mean you want to be able to get some set-piece ball on the front foot and Ross didn’t get that opportunity. 

“Often for a 10, that’s when you start to get a little bit of confidence in the game.

“It was a tough day defensively as well. He had some big men coming down his channel. He had a couple of really good tackles and he struggled a couple of times as well.

“He wanted to be able to run the game and boss the game but if you don’t have the ball it’s very hard to boss the game, especially when you don’t have the ball on the front foot. That was a real frustration.”

ross-byrne-and-garry-ringrose-dejected-after-the-game The Leinster man was left disappointed and frustrated. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

Indeed, no one will have been more frustrated that Byrne as his first start in Test rugby ended without him having the chance to show his controlling, strategic best. 

What happens next at out-half will be interesting. With Joey Carbery sidelined for another few weeks at least and Johnny Sexton also not expected to feature until the final warm-up game against Wales in Dublin on 7 September, Byrne and Carty are in line to feature again next weekend versus the Welsh in Cardiff.

Byrne will obviously be hoping Schmidt gives him another opportunity in the starting 10 shirt. And if the Ireland head coach does, Byrne will be hoping the parts around him are functioning much better as he looks to secure a World Cup sport.

Carty, however, will be eager to have a chance to lead Ireland from the off for the first time in his career, having only played off the bench so far in his four caps so far.

The race is still on.

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Murray Kinsella

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