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Dublin: 10°C Tuesday 19 January 2021

Beirne shows up strongly alongside immense Ryan in Ireland's second row

The Munster man showed he can win the gainline against France last weekend.

“YOU DON’T HAVE to be the biggest, you just have to have the most intent.”

So said Andy Farrell on Saturday night in Paris as he reflected on Ireland’s defeat to France and highlighted a couple of positives in the physical stakes.

Rassie Erasmus’ “softies” comment had given Ireland a bit of extra pre-match motivation if they needed it, and Farrell was pleased to watch James Ryan deliver a performance in which he was “absolutely immense physically.”

Robbie Henshaw “stuck his hand up as well,” said Farrell, as he stressed that “there were some good performances physically.”

irelands-tadgh-beirne Tadhg Beirne has started back-to-back games in the second row for Ireland. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

One man Farrell didn’t name-check but who also stepped up in this regard was Tadhg Beirne.

The Kildare man took the road less travelled towards his Ireland career, debuting at the age of 26 after proving his quality with two superb seasons in Wales with Scarlets. Saturday night in Paris was Beirne’s 15th cap and just his sixth start in the second row.

Munster and Ireland both list the 6ft 6ins Beirne at 113kg so he’s not the bulkiest lock around, meaning that one of the question marks around him was whether he was suited to playing in the second row against the biggest, most physical Test sides.

In Paris, Beirne delivered a performance that suggests he is more than capable of doing so. 

Over the course of his 11 carries, Beirne made 17 metres, that total gain second only to CJ Stander’s 20 metres in 13 carries.

It might not sound like a huge amount but all of those carries came in tight channels as Beirne showed plenty of the intent that Farrell wants to see from his players.

In the example below, Beirne comes around the corner from an Ireland scrum and dominates a one-on-one contest with France number eight Grégory Alldritt.


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There’s obviously nothing that will make a YouTube highlights reel here but it’s a big gainline win for Ireland as Beirne times his run around the corner so that he’s not completely static taking the ball, then exploits the fact that Alldritt goes high into the tackle, pumping his legs to eke out metres.

Below, we see Beirne picking a nice line in between two French defenders, timing his run to make sure he is really accelerating onto the ball to make it beyond the gainline. 


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Beirne didn’t get over the gainline on all of his carries in this game but Farrell and his coaches will be pleased with what the Munster man delivered in this sense.

Beirne is a skillful player and we saw a couple of glimpses in that regard, including the link pass below.


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Beirne’s ability to catch and pass under pressure beats the linespeed of François Cros as he finds Johnny Sexton out the back door and allows Ireland to play off their out-half to set a midfield ruck, from where Sexton cleverly grubbers behind the French.

Beirne passed five times in total against the French – having made three passes against Italy the weekend before – and this is definitely a part of his skillset that both Munster and Ireland must continue to harness.

Defensively, Beirne is not renowned as a massive hitter but he did a fine job in this area against the French as he completed four tackles. Ireland didn’t have to complete many tackles in this game, with Ryan the only man to hit double figures with 12.

The Ireland second rows combine in the tackle below.


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Beirne has a low chop focus and wraps around Bernard le Roux’s left leg before Ryan makes a dominant shot higher up on the France lock, while also taking out his right leg.

It’s a great example of the “immense” physicality that Ryan delivered in a real leader’s performance for Ireland.

Beirne doesn’t tend to dominate tackles like Ryan does but he is proficient with low chop tackles like the one below.


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Of course, Beirne’s main defensive strength is jackaling.

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The turnover specialist showed his quality in that area once again versus the Italians two weekends ago and came up with the poach below in Paris, very soon after the chop tackle above.


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Beirne and tackle Peter O’Mahony combine well here after starting on the opposite side of the ruck…


… and working hard to be in position on the inside as Arthur Vincent ducks back underneath the Irish linespeed on the far side.


O’Mahony’s low tackle brings Vincent swiftly to deck, with Stander assisting, and gives Beirne the kind of opening he is always searching for.

While he gets the turnover in the instance above, Beirne did have frustrations around the breakdown in Paris as he conceded two penalties.

The first looked like a fairly easy decision for referee Wayne Barnes.


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“Too long,” says Barnes after blowing his whistle,” stay on your feet, please.”

This penalty is in the France 22 and allows the home side to kick out and throw into the lineout, when Ireland would have hoped to pressure their exit and have the attacking lineout.

Beirne’s second penalty came in the build-up to France’s penalty try in the first half.


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Barnes plays advantage this time as he says, “Too long, four,” again indicating that he believes Beirne has gone off his feet as he jackals.

“Look, I understood what he said,” was Beirne’s take on these calls.

“The first one, I didn’t feel like I touched the ball, maybe I did, but in those areas it happens so quick that if I feel I’m going off my feet, I will get my hands away from the ball which I felt I did.

“But Wayne was refereeing it in a way that the second you’re off your feet and you’re near the ball, he’s pinging you. I had to change my approach a little bit as the game went on but unfortunately for me, I got pinged twice for the same thing, well actually once but advantage before the second try. They’re obviously costly moments, so it’s a bit frustrating on my part.”

Nonetheless, Beirne remains one of the best jackals in the Ireland squad.

Beirne was part of an Irish pack whose bids to maul against the French from close-range were twice shut down in decisive fashion.

The Irish pack will have been particularly disappointed with getting dismantled by some excellent French maul defence in the 11th minute from five metres out.

Otherwise, Beirne had two clean catches in the lineout and lifted jumpers twice, while his passing was also used as scrum-half Conor Murray lined up as the first receiver in the backline off lineouts.


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The Ireland lineout had several malfunctions in the final quarter of the game and Beirne was involved in one just before being replaced by Ultan Dillane.

In that instance, Beirne moved to get into a mauling slot but Ryan delivered the ball off the top, seemingly expecting his second row partner to be in the same position as the example above. Fortunately for the Irish pack, Henshaw made something out of nothing from the very scrappy lineout win and scored a superb solo try.

As would be expected of any lock, Beirne had several ruck involvements over the course of his 61 minutes, including a swift clearout of le Roux just before Cian Healy’s try. He was at loosehead lock in what was largely a solid Irish scrum effort while he was on the pitch. 

That scrappy lineout was Beirne’s final involvement against the French as Dillane was sent into action and it will be interesting to see what role the Munster man plays for the remainder of this autumn after making back-to-back starts in the second row.

Iain Henderson will be available again after missing out due to suspension over the past fortnight, while Farrell will surely be keen to involve the dynamic 21-year-old Ryan Baird if he overcomes his adductor strain. 

Beirne is also an option at blindside flanker, where he has made two starts for Ireland.

About the author:

Murray Kinsella

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