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'It was all worth it in the end. If I was still in Wales, who knows?'

Tadhg Beirne provides an impactful option for Ireland in the second row and back row.

TADHG BEIRNE SEEMS like the kind of player that Warren Gatland would have liked to pick for this World Cup.

Dogged, relentless, mobile, and possessing the kind of skillset that can change games, Beirne is instead something of a wildcard in Ireland’s squad in Japan.

Capable of playing at lock or in the back row, Beirne is the best breakdown specialist in Ireland’s 31-man group, and probably one of the best within the entire sport. His mobility and ball-handling skills also offer something different in attack, while his footwork allows him to carry further than his frame might suggest is possible in the tight.

tadhg-beirne Beirne could be an important player for Ireland in Japan. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Add in his superb lineout work in attack and defence – Beirne topped the Pro14 charts with nine lineout steals last season – and it’s clear why Joe Schmidt couldn’t leave him at home for the World Cup.

But the Kildare man is aware that things could have worked out very differently for him had he not accepted an offer to return to Ireland when Munster came calling last year, ending a spell with Scarlets that meant he was just a year away from qualifying for Wales under the residency rule.

“When the Scarlets came to me first, they said that [about possibly qualifying for Wales], and things can change in a year – who knows where I could have been?”

Beirne’s decision to shift his career to Munster has now paid off in style. Chatting to some of the travelling Irish media in Chiba as Ireland prepare for their World Cup opener against Scotland on Sunday, the 27-year-old is glad he made the call to go home.

“It was all worth it in the end. If I was still in Wales, who knows, I could have ended up being here if Warren Gatland had picked me. Who knows?

“But my goal was to play for my own country and that’s why I came back.

“The dream was to play for Ireland and ultimately get here.

“Your goals change along the way. You get the first goal and then you start looking at trying to get into the 23 every time and then the starting 15. I have gotten here and now my next target is to be in the 23 for Sunday.” 

Beirne says he felt “pure relief” when his place in Schmidt’s 31-man squad was finally confirmed after a long Sunday on 1 September, having filled that anxious waiting time with golf, bowling and anything else he could find to distract himself.

cj-stander-iain-henderson-tadhg-beirne-and-keith-earls-at-the-rugby-world-cup-cap-presentation Beirne and his team-mates received World Cup caps last week in Chiba. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

The former Leinster academy man’s versatility – covering lock, blindside and even number eight – was one of the attractive factors for Schmidt, of course.

Interestingly, Beirne featured at blindside twice during Ireland’s warm-up games ahead of the World Cup – as well as coming off the bench in the second row against England – and he could make most impact in Japan as a back row.

“I spoke to Joe at the start of the summer series and he just said that he was happy with what I have done at lock with Ireland and for Munster,” says Beirne.

“He said he wanted to give me a bit of game time again in the back row to have that option because I obviously hadn’t played there in so long. It was an opportunity for me to get some game time in that area again.”

Beirne says the biggest challenge in shifting from lock back to blindside is defending in wider channels, but he has willingly embraced that challenge and is seeing positive results.

“We had one-on-ones with all the coaches at the start of the pre-season and they said the one thing they wanted me to focus on was to improve my defence within the Irish system and I’ve worked really hard on that in terms of doing video and looking back at where I can improve,” says Beirne.

“I think I’ve definitely improved over the course of the last few weeks, I’ve seen it myself. To the normal eye, a lot of people probably haven’t seen it but I’ve been pretty happy with how it’s gone.”

tadhg-beirne Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Having seen his decision to return to Ireland pay off and having convinced Schmidt of his value, Beirne is now hopeful of being involved on Sunday against a dangerous Scotland team.

“They can score from anywhere and they’ll certainly try it from anywhere too,” he says of the challenge. “We certainly have to be prepared for it in every area of the field.

“They’ll try different things at different times. We just have to be prepared for anything. They say ‘expect the unexpected’ and we’ll go in with that mentality.”

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About the author:

Murray Kinsella  / Reports from Chiba

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