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Johnny Sexton and Ross Byrne.
Johnny Sexton and Ross Byrne.
Image: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

'He's ready, I have massive faith in Ross Byrne's ability to deal with pressure'

The 26-year-old gets another big chance with Johnny Sexton missing.
Apr 29th 2021, 3:30 PM 6,440 5

IN 2009, FELIPE Contepomi’s injury during Leinster’s Heineken Cup semi-final against Munster opened the door for Johnny Sexton to step into the hot seat at out-half.

Having guided Leinster to victory in that game, Sexton also directed them home in the final against Leicester. Looking back, Sexton’s arrival onto the pitch at Croke Park was a genuine changing-of-the-guard moment. 

Did we witness something similar at Sandy Park three weekends ago when Ross Byrne entered the fray in place of the injured Sexton and led the team to their impressive comeback victory over Exeter in the Champions Cup quarter-finals?

Bernard Jackman, Gavan Casey, and Murray Kinsella discussed the topic on today’s edition of The42 Rugby Weekly, with Byrne set to start this weekend’s Champions Cup semi-final against La Rochelle with Sexton still sidelined due to his head injury.

Gavan: “It was his best performance of the season but there is still almost that stigma around him based on two performances for Ireland in Twickenham where the forwards got their arses handed to them and he was chasing his own arse really as a result of that.

“Exeter felt like… I don’t want to say a defining performance but certainly a performance from which he can relaunch his career a little bit and if he was to repeat it this weekend, which I think he’s capable of, then suddenly it’s a different conversation about him.

“Do you think he’s capable of filling that gap in this game this weekend?”

johnny-sexton-and-ross-byrne Byrne has been Sexton's understudy for years now. Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

Murray: “Absolutely, all the evidence suggests he is. I think this weekend is… a changing of the guard – is that too big a statement to make with it? I don’t think it is.

“I think it’s the way Leinster would have planned it. Johnny Sexton is going to be 36 this summer, he obviously got a contract extension from the IRFU but it would have been fascinating to see what would have happened if the IRFU had decided not to contract him and how Leinster would have managed that.

“Obviously, he’s still their captain and a really influential figure but Leinster have been aware all the time about succession planning, about timing that move right, and it feels like that with Ross Byrne now at 26, having stepped up whenever has been asked to.

“You think of the Champions Cup quarter-final against Ulster a couple of years ago when he nailed that penalty, or even more recently against Munster down in Thomond Park when he comes off the bench and produces a lovely grubber kick and nails his conversion from the right-hand side. 

“In Exeter, he came on and just had so much composure. He grabbed hold of it and said, ‘Follow me, we’re going to the semi-finals.’ I wouldn’t be surprised if that was the case again in this game. Obviously, it’s a step up in his career.

“Some of those experiences with Ireland haven’t gone well but he has almost been a scapegoat. England have beaten Ireland with Johnny Sexton in the team and he has been bad in those games because his team wasn’t going forward.

“Ross Byrne has ticked all the boxes so far and if he plays really well in this semi-final and they go through and Sexton is fit for the final, then it’s a really interesting decision for Leinster.”

ross-byrne-takes-a-kick Byrne was excellent in Exeter. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Bernard: “I think he’s ready for it, I have massive faith in Ross Byrne’s ability to deal with pressure and implement the plan.

“He’s probably as mentally strong a player as is out there and he will relish this. Giving him opportunities in Pro14 semi-finals and finals when Johnny has been fit is really good planning by Leinster.


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“Now they’ve reached the day where it wasn’t their choice but Ross has that confidence and reassurance that they back him to close out a game, which he did against Exeter, but also start a game like this.

“He has been prepared for this as they chase the ultimate prize – which is Europe. He will go there fully comfortable with how they want to play, fully comfortable with the guys around him.

“That 50 or 60 minutes against Exeter will be so good for him, to have steered the ship, brought them back from behind, and pulled away at the end.” 

You can listen to the podcast in full below or wherever you get yours — on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, etc…

Source: The42 Rugby Weekly/SoundCloud

Bernard Jackman, Gavan Casey, and Murray Kinsella preview Leinster and Ulster’s big European semi-finals and discuss the furore surrounding Eddie Jones.

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