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Dublin: 6°C Monday 18 January 2021

'It's difficult when you miss out but Ross just needs to focus on playing well'

Ross Byrne has the chance to produce a big performance for Leinster against Wasps at the end of a disappointing week for the out-half.

WHILE THERE WAS understandable delight out west this week, Ross Byrne was left to experience the other side of a tight selection call following his surprise omission from Joe Schmidt’s Six Nations squad.

Having made his Ireland debut against Italy in Chicago last November, the Leinster out-half was expected to be part of Schmidt’s plans for the Grand Slam defence, but his place in the panel instead went to Connacht’s Jack Carty.

Ross Byrne Byrne will have a point to prove this weekend. Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

While no one can argue that Carty’s first call-up is not wholly merited on the back of his consistently excellent form for the western province, Schmidt’s decision to leave Byrne out was the major talking point from Wednesday’s announcement.

The 23-year-old, who won his second cap coming off the bench against USA during the Autumn series, has performed brilliantly as Johnny Sexton’s deputy at Leinster, most recently against Toulouse in last weekend’s Heineken Champions Cup win.

In making 26 appearances at out-half during the province’s double-winning season last term, Byrne was preferred to Joey Carbery by Leo Cullen and Stuart Lancaster, prompting the latter’s move south to Munster over the summer.

While Schmidt said Byrne is still ‘definitely in our thinking’, his omission for the opening championship games against England and Scotland was not anticipated, particularly after his fine performance in the pivot at the RDS last Saturday.

Putting the disappointment aside, Byrne will have the chance to remind Schmidt of his quality when he starts for Leinster in the continued absence of Sexton in Sunday’s Champions Cup clash against Wasps at the Ricoh Arena [KO 3.15pm, BT Sport].

“Ross is naturally disappointed,” Leo Cullen said this afternoon.

“He has gone well, Ross, and it’s always difficult when you miss out. For him, he just needs to focus on his performance regardless of what happened in terms of that selection.

“What can he control? He can control the fact he is playing this week and has led the group well. It was great to get him through last week and I thought he was excellent last week as well, so for him just focus on playing well and doing everything within his control.

“He can’t control what all the other players are doing around the place but he’s been good for us and is well focused for the challenge ahead.”

The Leinster head coach was asked if he was surprised by the decision.

“Like it’s tough, I’m not studying the players as closely as the national coaches would be,” he added. “We have some tough calls here ourselves and I’m sure it’s very, very tough, the national team as well.”

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Cullen also provided an update on Sexton’s fitness after the Leinster captain was again ruled out of selection this week as he continues to nurse a knee tendon injury.

Jonathan Sexton attends the game Sexton remains sidelined with a knee injury. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

The World Rugby Player of the Year, who hasn’t played since Leinster’s defeat at Thomond Park on 29 December, didn’t train with the rest of the squad again this week but Cullen insists both he and Dan Leavy are ‘making good progress, and not a million miles away’.

In Sexton’s absence, Leinster will bid to secure a home quarter-final when they round off their pool campaign against Wasps on Sunday afternoon, with the defending champions currently leading Pool 1 by three points.

Given they are the final game to kick-off in round six, Leinster will have a clearer idea of what is exactly required of them come 3.15pm in Coventry as they seek to book an Aviva Stadium date on the last weekend of March.

“It’s important, very important for those teams that want to be successful,” Cullen said of home advantage in the last eight.

“There is the commercial side of it where the club like having the financial reward and with that the money goes back into investment in the game, whether that is at underage level, the academy or to the senior team.

“Then history would show that teams have a slightly better chance, based on the stats, when they are at home. Leinster have gone away before and won quarter-finals but you are better off being at home. It is a good challenge this weekend.”

Ahead of the final weekend of European pool games, Murray Kinsella, Andy Dunne and Gavan Casey look at what each of the provinces can expect, and who impressed last weekend:

Source: Heineken Rugby Weekly on The42/SoundCloud

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Ryan Bailey

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