Leinster head coach Leo Cullen has reminded supporters that Harry Byrne is “still only 21” amid calls to play the young fly-half against Italy in the Six Nations.
With Ireland’s chances of winning the Six Nations title all but dead having lost their opening two fixtures, pundits and supporters have called for Andy Farrell to experiment for the Italian game.
Starting the likes of Byrne and Munster scrum-half Craig Caset are among the most popular suggestions for the trip to Rome, while the experienced duo of Conor Murray and Johnny Sexton could provide cover off the bench.
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Byrne has played just 20 minutes of Heineken Champions Cup action for Leinster, but Cullen has been impressed by what the youngster has done for the Blues this season in the Pro14.
“Harry, this season, on the back of players getting sucked up [to Ireland], Harry is the one – I think he’s been involved in eight games and started six, so he’s got a decent chunk of minutes.
“There was that period just prior to Christmas off the back of the Autumn Series when Ross started against Montpellier and Harry was on the bench and came on for the last 20.
“Then Harry, after picking him for the Northampton game, pulled out after the warm-up. It’s amazing those moments but Harry is learning all the time, he’s still only 21.
“He’s bubbling away there and progressing nicely. All the players, they all have plenty to work on but he’s making progress all the time.
“The coaches make assessments on what they see but we’ve seen plenty of Harry play this season and guys make that step all the time for sure.”
‘It’s not just about throwing a 21-year-old in there.’
While the Leinster head coach has plenty of confidence in the young fly-half, the Leinster head coach urged caution about throwing Byrne in at the deep end against Italy in the Six Nations.
“Like any 21-year-old coming into the squad or team, there are so many things to work on all the time, in terms of game management, from the physical point of view to set them up to succeed in the long term.
“It’s not just about throwing a 21-year-old in there and, yeah, he plays well for a season and the following season he has this big fall off a cliff because certain things – physical, tactical, whatever it is – have just been sort of glossed over and don’t get addressed properly.”
Byrne has another chance to stake his claim for a green jersey when Leinster take on the Dragons in Newport on Friday night in the Pro14.