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Dublin: 8 °C Tuesday 21 January, 2020

Can Ross Byrne fill Johnny Sexton's boots for Leinster's pivotal clash with Toulouse?

Byrne, 23, looks set to deputise for the World Player of the Year in the European champions’ crunch tie at the RDS.

LEINSTER ARE SET to be without skipper Johnny Sexton for Saturday’s crucial clash with Toulouse at the RDS, the World Player of the Year still suffering with a calf injury as first reported by Des Berry in The Herald.

Ross Byrne will likely deputise should Leinster officially confirm the bad news when they name their matchday squad on Friday. The twice-capped Ireland international was an unused substitute in Leinster’s Pro14 win over Ulster last weekend, watching on as Ciarán Frawley pulled the strings at 10.

On this week’s Heineken Rugby Weekly, The42′s rugby podcast, one listener posed the question: ‘Can Ross Byrne fill Johnny Sexton’s boots this weekend?’

Here was Murray Kinsella’s assessment of the 23-year-old’s big opportunity against Leinster’s fellow four-time European kings:

“The evidence of Ross Byrne stepping in for big fixtures over the last year or so would suggest that yes, he can do it. Think back to those Montpellier games last season and he did really well there. Munster in the semi-final of the Pro14 — he did really well there.

And he’s probably been frustrated that he’s not gotten more opportunities in those bigger fixtures, as well.

“It’s been interesting in the last couple of weeks that Ciaran Frawley has gotten a lot of exposure. I think last weekend was based around the doubts over Johnny Sexton’s calf, so they probably decided to pull him [Byrne] from that game, and it was great for Ciaran Frawley to get more exposure; he did really well, and also rebounded, I felt, from that intercept error [v Munster]. I thought his passing game was really brave, he was square to the line and making really good decisions.

But I think Ross Byrne, in terms of how he manages a team, has really grown. I think the biggest development in his game has been around his passing, his fluidity in attack, and making those decisions on the ball — allowing guys outside him to be in good positions.

Ross Byrne Ross Byrne lines up a kick against Bath at the Rec earlier this season. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

“I think he’s been really impressive over the last two seasons,” Murray added. “His kicking is obviously a strength, and also you’ve probably seen him develop that fiery confidence that out-halves need to boss their teams.

I remember an early game this season and he gave an earful to Scott Fardy — who looked very surprised to get it! [Fardy] thought about answering him back but goes, ‘Alright, that’s my out-half — that’s his job.

“I think he’s really grown into it and he’ll be massively eager for this challenge.”

Murray, however, foresees a bigger selection issue for Leo Cullen ahead of Saturday’s visit of the resurgent French aristocrats, who have won 11 and drawn one of their last 12 games:

“The interesting one is his 12 outside him [Byrne]: Robbie Henshaw is back in training now, and we’ve seen him make these startling returns — you think of the Scarlets match [Champions Cup semi] last season when he came back from a shoulder reconstruction and absolutely dominated physically.

“This time he’s coming back from a hamstring. Potentially, you want to be careful with that, so you don’t know if Leinster are going to rush him back in.

But I think having a slightly unsettled 10-12 combination is a little bit of a disadvantage for Leinster, as well as losing James Lowe to that suspension out on the wing. So that’s a big decision to make there: either Adam Byrne’s really good form going forward or Barry Daly, who’s a good defender.

Murray, Andy Dunne and Gavan Casey also discussed the fit-again Chris Farrell’s impact on Munster’s attack and how Johan van Graan’s men seem to have finally found their feet ahead of the business end of the pool stage, with a pivotal trip to Kingsholm to face Gloucester on the cards on Friday night.

There was also an exploration of Toulouse’s newly rediscovered joie de vivre, a chat about why Connacht aren’t a ‘feeder’ team despite losing Cian Kelleher, Murray and Andy’s predictions for the weekend, and an interview with Garry Ringrose who discussed, among other things, his approach to defending in the 13 channel.

For all of that and more, check out this week’s Heineken Rugby Weekly on iTunes, Soundcloud or wherever you get your podcasts, and please send your questions and thoughts for next week’s episode to

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