After enjoying a relatively low-key international debut in Chicago three weeks ago, Ross Byrne relished the opportunity to play for the guts of an hour during Ireland’s GUINNESS Series finale against the USA at a sold-out Aviva Stadium.
Leinster out-half Ross Byrne began the November internationals by scoring a brace of conversions on his Ireland debut against Italy at Soldier Field, following his 61st-minute introduction in place of his former provincial team-mate Joey Carbery.
Whereas Ireland were well on the way to victory by the time he made his appearance in the Windy city, this weekend’s encounter with the USA was still in the melting pot when he replaced the injured Darren Sweetnam after just 26 minutes.
Coming on at such an early stage in the contest was admittedly unexpected, but Byrne was delighted to get some extended game-time at number 10. “It was brilliant to come on and get such a good chunk of the game,” he admitted after the 57-14 win over the Eagles.
“Obviously I was probably expecting to come off the bench with probably a lot less time than that, but to get that amount of time and try slot into the game as best as possible was great. The US have some powerful athletes. I was on the receiving end of a few of them. It was tough to break them down in the first half and the second half as well. Eventually we managed to pull away from them and put up a good score.”
Byrne’s addition to the Irish back-line approaching the half hour mark forced a reshuffle with Carbery moving to full-back and Ulster’s Will Addison shifting to the left wing berth vacated by Sweetnam. He grew in confidence on his home debut, aided by the vocal home crowd.
“It probably took me a few minutes to get settled into it, but overall I was reasonably happy with how it went. Once you get a taste for it, you just want more of it. A sold-out crowd, it was phenomenal. Although the game was probably a bit stop-start at times, the crowd were brilliant tonight. Definitely gave us a massive lift.”
Being part of the extended panel for last week’s historic home win over New Zealand, Byrne was able to grasp the impact it has had on the squad. Rather than seeing a drop-off from the players that featured in that game, the 23-year-old stressed that the intensity of training was just as high in the lead up to the USA clash.
“To be honest, it certainly didn’t ease off. All the lads that played, most of them came back in and trained. They really put it up to the lads that were starting this week. Training all week was at a very high level. It definitely made a big difference today.
“They (last week’s players) know that whoever is playing out there is champing at the bit to take their place. There’s such depth at the moment that everyone wants to be in the 23, but there’s maybe 30, 40 players who are trying to get in there. Everyone wants to either take the jersey or not give it up.”
With formidable operators like Jonathan Sexton and Carbery already established on the international stage, Byrne knows that he has to make the most of every opportunity in the number 10 position. He enjoyed the chance to dovetail with two scrum halves on Saturday – John Cooney up to the hour mark and Luke McGrath, a former St. Michael’s College starlet like Byrne, for the remainder of the match.
Ulster scrum half Cooney was making his first start for Ireland and Byrne felt their time spent together in camp at Carton House was mutually beneficial. “It’s brilliant to get a chance to play for Ireland, especially in a home game like that. I suppose it’s just try and take the opportunity as best as possible or slot into the team,” he added.
“Make it as seamless as it can be, so there’s not a big gap between whoever played the previous week and you. I’ve trained a good bit with John over the last few weeks. That definitely helped. I’d know him pretty well anyway, so we’d have a good relationship, which definitely makes a difference.”