Leinster winger Adam Byrne capped off a very special week at the Aviva Stadium on Saturday when he made his senior Ireland debut against Argentina in the final game of the 2017 GUINNESS Series.
Adam Byrne was handed his Leinster debut by Joe Schmidt as an 18-year-old back in December 2012, and although a series of injuries halted his progress during the intervening years, impressive provincial form in the past 12 months elevated him to Ireland’s November squad.
The Kill native dnot feature in the previous games against South Africa and Fiji, and after initially feeling that he would not be involved against the Pumas, he was delighted to be named in the starting line-up for Ireland’s final Test of the calendar year.
“It was incredible. You always have to be ready to play, but I thought maybe my chance had gone. I kept the head down, and I came in on Monday. It’s hard to tell if you’re going to be involved, but Monday night I was kind of like ‘you know, maybe’,” he explained.
“When the team was announced on Tuesday, it was surreal. It was incredible, and telling my parents and stuff. They were obviously delighted. Once the team was announced (publicly) on Thursday, I got some really, really nice messages from a lot of people. It was obviously emotional, but I tried to keep my head in a good space.
“It was just incredible from leaving the Shelbourne today (Saturday), and seeing the support. Even just seeing the support throughout the week. It was really special. It was quite emotional, but it was a great day.”
Despite playing on the right side of the back-three, the injury-enforced withdrawal of Chris Farrell in the second half saw Byrne finish the game alongside Bundee Aki in midfield. While this may have phased some, the 23-year-old’s past experience as a centre with UCD in the Ulster Bank League stood to him.
“I was just making sure I knew my detail as much as possible for the wing. Everyone rallied behind me, and looked out for me. Bundee, Rob (Kearney), Johnny (Sexton), CJ (Stander) even on the kick-offs. We’re a team and everyone looks out for each other. It was actually a good experience to play 13, and hopefully I can show the coaches I can play a few other positions.
“When I started rugby, I was on the wing, and then I kind of slowly moved in. I think I got as far as playing 12 actually with UCD for a bit, but then I moved back out. At Under-18s, Under-19s I played a bit in the centre and full-back. Hopefully I can get a chance again in different positions, and it’s obviously nice as well if you’re number 23 to be able to cover a few positions.”
A try on your international debut is what dreams are made of for professional rugby players, and Byrne very nearly got himself on the scoresheet during the early stages of the 28-19 victory. A 10th-minute cross-field kick from Conor Murray was directed towards Byrne, and despite getting away from Argentinian scrum half Martin Landajo, he could not prevent the ball from ending up in touch.
“Once the move was called, I was looking at the opposite winger. He’s good in the air, so once I saw him going in-field, I knew it was me against the scrum half. I back myself in the air anyway against most people, so I was just hoping the kick would be hanging enough so I could get underneath it. Unfortunately it wasn’t to be.”
While playing the full 80 minutes in a Test win over Argentina can put a player on cloud nine, Byrne knows he cannot afford to get ahead of himself. As he now switches his focus to a busy schedule with Leinster in the GUINNESS PRO14 and Champions Cup, he is aiming to build on the experience he has gained with Ireland in the past few weeks.
“I know it’s cliched, always take every game as it comes, but it really is the case. I go back to Leinster, and there’s a lot of competition in there in pretty much every position. I’ll go back and I’ll try to take as much as I’ve learned in here back. Hopefully keep growing as a player.
“I still feel I’ve a lot more to show. I’m looking forward to going back to Leinster, and hopefully we can go one step further. Obviously a couple of steps further than last season,” he added.