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Thursday 9 February 2023 Dublin: 3°C
Ben Brady/INPHO
# Leading The Way
Leinster's back-ups deserve respect - they have put the club in a great position
Leinster take on Glasgow today having won all seven of their URC games this season.

YOU OFTEN HEAR stories about Ross Byrne always being among the last to leave the training field.

But there’s another one worth telling. Way back in 2018, there was a lot of talk about him being about to leave Leinster, not out of choice but because Ulster and Munster were crying out for an outhalf and Leinster had a surplus of them.

In the end, it was Joey Carbery who Munster signed and Billy Burns who ended up in Belfast. “It says a lot about Ross that Leinster didn’t let him go,” says Darragh Fanning, Byrne’s former Leinster team mate.

You can see why they didn’t. A week ago, Byrne was 24th man as Ireland began their warm-up against Australia. A few minutes from the end he was on the pitch, tasked with landing a penalty to win the test. He nailed it.

He often does. In 135 appearances for Leinster, Byrne has scored 858 points. We often think of him as Johnny Sexton’s stand-in but the truth is a little more nuanced. Sexton has played just three times for Leinster this season, clocking up 174 minutes in blue. Today’s game against Glasgow will be Byrne’s eighth of the campaign. He has already played twice as many minutes as Sexton this term.

“Ross is your perfect pro, never injured, always giving his all,” said Fanning, “whether he’s the No22 in the squad or the starting 10. He has well over 100 caps for Leinster. You have to be good to get that many.”

It has often been queried how Leinster will cope when Sexton retires but a bigger question may be how would they cope if Byrne wasn’t around. For he is the one they rely on for games like today’s against Glasgow Warriors (kick off 3.15pm, live RTE).

He’s their November and February guy, the person who minds the till when the shop owner flies off on holiday. Glance at the Leinster team sheet today and you’ll see Ross Byrne types all over it, from Dave Kearney to Luke McGrath in the backs; from Ed Byrne to Ross Molony to Rhys Ruddock, Scott Penny and Max Deegan in the pack.

rhys-ruddock Laszlo Geczo / INPHO Ruddock has been Leinster's Mr Reliable. Laszlo Geczo / INPHO / INPHO

We’re inclined to think of them as back-ups before we examine the evidence a little deeper.

So far this season, Leinster have won seven out of seven, leading the table with 33 points. It’s worth remembering that 50 points was good enough to get you into the URC play-offs last season. At the rate Leinster are going, they’ll reach the half-century mark by New Year.

Glasgow were the side who got into last season’s quarter-finals with 50 points but it was a different number that defined their 2021/22 season, namely the 76 points they conceded against Leinster at the RDS in their last eight game.

That cost their coach, Danny Wilson, his job. This week Wilson’s replacement, Franco Smith was asked about that game, especially as seven members of today’s Glasgow team were on the field that day.

“We specifically didn’t refer to that game this week,” Smith said. “We’re trying to write our own story now. This is a new book. We’ve turned the page on that period.

“It’s going to be a different theme out there. We don’t want to carry the burden of that game with us. We’ve turned that page, we’ve used that motivation, the players know that without saying. I hope there’s enough motivation that they’ve taken individually out of that to make it a good collective performance.”

It will be harder for them to do that without Zander Fagerson, Matt Fagerson, Ali Price and Sione Tuipulotu, harder again because this Leinster team is packed with players with points to prove. Ronan Kelleher is on his way back, Jamie Osborne is on the way up. Then there is Joe McCarthy, Irish debutant last week. A year ago he was playing AIL rugby with Trinity. “Joe’s progression has been great,” said Leo Cullen, the Leinster coach.

Cullen has an underrated skill at bringing players through, at resting the front-liners but making sure whoever has the jersey delivers in it.

That’s easier said than done.

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Here’s Smith again: “From experience, this period of year is always the most difficult part,” the Glasgow coach said. “You have European games, you have derbies in the middle, it is Christmas, there are a lot of holidays. And it’s cold, it’s really, really cold. It gets more difficult to get out because of the weather so it is a very difficult time.”

Leinster aren’t going to make it any easier for him this afternoon.

Leinster: Jamie Osborne; Rob Russell, Liam Turner, Charlie Ngatai, Dave Kearney; Ross Byrne, Luke McGrath; Ed Byrne, Rónan Kelleher, Thomas Clarkson; Ross Molony, Joe McCarthy; Rhys Ruddock (captain); Scott Penny, Max Deegan.

Replacements: John McKee, Michael Milne, Vakh Abdaladze, Jason Jenkins, Ryan Baird, Cormac Foley, Harry Byrne, Chris Cosgrave.

Glasgow Warriors – J McKay; S Cancelliere, K Steyn (capt), S McDowall, R McLean; T Jordan, G Horne; O Kebble, F Brown, M Walker; S Manjezi, A Samuel; G Brown, S Vailanu, J Dempsey. Reps: J Matthews, S Berghan, JP Du Preez, L bean, E Ferrie, J Dobie, R Thompson.

Referee – M van der Westhuizen (SARU)

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