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Dublin: 9°C Tuesday 20 April 2021

Tough Twickenham Test ideal showcase for Byrne

It will be a first international start for the Leinster 10, but he will be playing in a tried and tested side.

Byrne and Ringrose at training in Portugal.
Byrne and Ringrose at training in Portugal.
Image: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

TWICKENHAM IS ONE hell of a venue for a first start in Test rugby, and the proximity of the World Cup means Ross Byrne has a lot riding on his performance against England on Saturday (kick-off 3pm).

The Leinster out-half’s previous international runs have come off the bench against Italy and the USA, but with Joey Carbery an injury doubt and Jonathan Sexton still to make an appearance in this warm-up window, head coach Joe Schmidt is clearly keen to dig some late depth among his number 10s.

The succession plan at out-half remains intriguing. Jack Carty, named on the bench again this weekend, appeared to have pulled ahead of Byrne in the pecking order during the Six Nations.

The Leinster 10 travelled as an unused member of the 2018 touring squad in Australia and he has often proven himself to be a steady influence with his province even when drafted in for the biggest of games. Having played through pain to slot a nerveless Champions Cup quarter-final winner against Ulster last season, Schmidt will be confident he won’t balk at the thought of Twickenham.

If he can once again prove an ability to handle the big stage then it would weigh heavily in his favour with the deadline for the World Cup squad fast approaching.

Another man who is highly respected among provincial peers and inexperienced at international level is Jean Kleyn.

The Munster lock will be keen to improve on what was a steady and unspectacular debut for his adopted nation. He is partnered by Iain Henderson in the second row and (almost as if Schmidt was keen to underline the difficult choice he must make between second rows next month) two more locks fill up the bench spots.

It is expected that the 31-man squad will contain just four second rows, with one capable of dropping back to cover blindside.

Tadhg Beirne Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

With James Ryan one of seven men still to make a mark on these warm-ups, the remaining locks are unleashed for a second game running to show their wares and Tadhg Beirne once again takes a back row berth among the replacements. So he will be sniffing out turnover opportunities to underline the value of his inclusion.

Outside of the second row and out-half, it is a familiar looking Ireland line-up, brimming with experience to meet Eddie Jones’ side. After a low-stakes run-out against Italy, the biggest guns are deployed in the front row as Cian Healy, Tadhg Furlong and captain Rory Best blow off the cobwebs for a new season.

Peter O’Mahony and CJ Stander are joined by Josh van der Flier in a back row combination that many would mark as their first-choice.

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Crucially, Rob Kearney takes up the number 15 shirt. So England will not mine as much joy from Ireland’s back-field as they did when Robbie Henshaw had to roll back the years and play fullback during the dispiriting Six Nations opener back in February.

The rest of the back-line spells out even better news for Byrne, though. This is not a first start won in Test start in a makeshift team. The systems will be expected to fire with Conor Murray, Bundee Aki and Garry Ringrose in place. Dropped in among them, Byrne has the best possible showcase to make an argument for his place in Japan.

See the team-sheet in full here>>

Players yet to be involved in Ireland’s RWC warm-ups: Dave Kilcoyne, James Ryan, Jack Conan, Jonathan Sexton. Robbie Henshaw, Will Addison, Keith Earls.

About the author:

Sean Farrell

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