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'These things take time' - Cullen wary of rushing Byrne's progress

The Leinster head coach also discussed the current situation regarding contract talks.

Leinster out-half Harry Byrne.
Leinster out-half Harry Byrne.
Image: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

IT CAN BE easy to forget that Harry Byrne has only started nine Pro14 games for Leinster. It’s not the most thorough CV for the man being talked up as Ireland’s next great hope at out-half.

This is a player whose talents are still framed in terms of potential. Thing is, that potential is quite obvious. That’s why Brian O’Driscoll, to name just one high-profile member of the fan club, would like to see him in the green of Ireland.

It’s understandable if Leo Cullen is a little wary of the hype. The Leinster head coach wants the province to produce quality young players who go on to play important roles for their country, but he will also want to take care not to expose some of those young players to too much, too young.

In an ideal world, Byrne would have more senior experience under his belt before he was stepping up to Test-level rugby. However, it’s not an ideal world, and a combination of injury to Johnny Sexton and the struggles for form between some of Ireland’s other options at 10 saw Byrne called in to act as injury cover before last weekend’s Six Nations defeat to France.

His first international cap hasn’t arrived yet, but it’s coming. Is Pro14 experience enough to prepare a player to make that leap? 

“Yeah, but he is a 21-year-old as well. These things take time, to get the international experience to be able to play 10,” says Cullen, stressing the province’s desire to manage the player’s development accordingly, rather than just handing him as much exposure as possible.

“Like any 21-year-old coming into the squad or team, there’s so many things to work on all the time, in terms of game management, from the physical point of view to set them up to succeed in the long term.

“It’s not just about throwing a 21-year-old in there and, yeah, he plays well for a season and the following season he has this big fall off a cliff because certain things – physical, tactical, whatever it is – have just been sort of glossed over and don’t get addressed properly.

“For us we want to make sure guys are playing for 10/12/15 years in Leinster and Ireland jerseys. It’s not just for two or three seasons so it’s great, you’ve got this 21-year-old playing but he’s on the scrapheap as a 24-year-old.

“I’m not sure what does that achieve for anybody. That’s what player development is. We have limited player resources in this country and it’s important for people to understand that with limited resources you have to really take care of them because other countries have 10 or 15 times the playing population that we have, if you think of England, France, New Zealand, South Africa, those countries.

“So for the guys we have and the resources we have, the players being the most important resource we have, (it’s vital) that we really manage them well and it’s not just about (getting) a 21 or 22-year-old, or 19 or 20-year-old in there, because you want to make sure they’re being set up to succeed.

“But, yeah, Harry is getting his game-time and he’s making progress. It’s important to (take into account) what certain coaches want and need etc, but that’s down to those individual conversations or selection choices.”

For now, Byrne is back to the less glamorous surroundings of the Pro14, and a trip to take on Dragons tonight [7.35, TG4]. The Welsh side have lost all of their last eight games against Leinster and haven’t won at Rodney Parade since October. Of the 12 teams in this year’s Pro14, only Zebre (48) have conceded more tries than Dean Ryan’s side (32).

This is exactly the type of fixture where the young out-half could thrive, and it will also be a special occasion for the Byrne household, with Harry and elder brother Ross starting together for Leinster for the first time.

Ross, having previously been deployed at outside centre against Ulster last month, starts at inside centre, with Harry handed the reins at out-half. Ciarán Frawley, another in-form option at centre, misses out with a minor shoulder issue.

“It’s something we’ve been keen to look at for a while,” Cullen continues. “We’ve seen it in training numerous times.

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harry-byrne-and-ross-byrne Brothers Harry (left) and Ross Byrne on Ireland duty. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

“We looked at Johnny (Sexton) and Ross playing together in that Ulster game earlier on in the season. It’s a natural piece for us to explore and see what it looks like.”

While Harry remains the box-office story at Leinster, there are also 40+ other players on the books, many of whom are out of contract at the end of the season.

Yesterday’s announcement that Munster have re-signed eight senior players means Leinster are now the only one of the provinces not to confirm any contract news since the IRFU gave the green light for negotiations to get underway.

There are difficult conversations being had, with the wealth of young talent coming through one door forcing those at the other end of their careers towards another.

“It’s not like our number (of players) gets bigger here every year, our number stays the exact same and that’s why for every young player that comes into the building someone has to leave somewhere,” Cullen says.

“Whether that’s someone who has been here for 10-15 years or whatever, someone has to make space for that person. It’s not like our numbers go to 60, 70 or 80 – the number stays the exact same.

“So, there’s always difficult conversations and this year it’s more challenging than normal.

“Everything gets lifted and suddenly there’s a mad rush to do business because we’re open for business so to speak. This year has been tough, there’s a lot of uncertainty out there for different players in particular and we’re still working our way through that.

“It’s going OK, but it’s still a challenge, it’s fair to say.”

Dragons: J Williams; J Holmes, A Owen, J Dixon, A Hewitt; S Davies, R Williams (captain); B Harris, R Hibbard, L Fairbrother; J Davies, B Carter; M Screech, B Fry, H Taylor.

Replacements: E Shipp, G Bateman, C Coleman, J Maksymiw, D Baker, L Baldwin, J Lewis, C Edwards.

Leinster: M O’Reilly; C Kelleher, R O’Loughlin, R Byrne, D Kearney; H Byrne, L McGrath (captain); P Dooley, J Tracy, M Bent; R Molony, R Baird, J Murphy, S Penny, J Conan.

Replacements: D Sheehan, M Hanan, T Clarkson, D Toner, S Fardy, R Osborne, D Hawkshaw, J Osborne.

Bernard Jackman, Murray Kinsella and Gavan Casey take the fine-tooth comb to Ireland’s defeat to France and get to the bottom of their issues on both sides of the ball:

Source: The42 Rugby Weekly/SoundCloud

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