Sean McMahon reporting from the RDS.
Leinster head coach Leo Cullen was pleased with Harry Byrne’s man-of-the-match performance as the youngster helped his side to a 50-15 victory on what was his first start in the Guinness PRO14.
Byrne, younger brother of Ireland international, Ross, produced a controlled performance which included a first-half try and a sublime cross-field kick which resulted in Dave Kearney scoring his second and Leinster’s fifth on the night.
The 20-year-old also recovered well from some early jitters with the tee to kick five out of eight conversions in what were very difficult conditions.
“Nothing really fazes Harry,” Cullen said in his post-match press conference.
“He’s had a good mentor in the household it’s fair to say in recent years! So between Harry and Ross, they’re very, very important to us as a group. Harry has mainly been coming off the bench this season, played some games in the Celtic Cup and he’s been waiting patiently for his opportunity.
“It’s great to get him a start. First 80 minutes under his belt for the senior team, so, it’s positive. It gives another player…we want to see what’s coming up in this block, we’ve to manage the group that are coming back in from the World Cup. So, you’re trying to juggle those resources all the time.”
Ryan Baird also made his starting debut for the eastern province and Cullen was equally as impressed with the dynamic lock’s performance.
“Similarly, with Ryan Baird, it’s good to get him 80 minutes. He had a very good U20s World Cup. Obviously, Harry didn’t go to the U20s World Cup but he had been before, had an issue with his back. He’s managed to get himself, physically, in better condition.
“So, the two of them in particular, it’s good to get them through 80 minutes at this level because you see them in training all the time and you’re hoping they’re able to translate what they’ve been doing on the training field into the game, so, overall it was a decent night for them.”
With Baird’s athleticism and dynamism shining through in his 80-minute performance, it’s clear that he could be utilised as a back-row in the future and this is something which Cullen doesn’t rule out.
“Ryan is very athletic so a couple of good lineout steals. You could see him in the loose where he features, he’s got the athleticism to get in a kick-chase and chase like a back-rower or a back, really.
“He’s going to take a bit of time in terms of learning the nuances of tight forward play but overall, it’s a positive step for Ryan as well.”
“Potentially yeah (play Baird in the back-row). He played a little bit of six and eight at the U20s World Cup. He’s one of those guys that gives a bit of flexibility there which is good.”
Leinster are sitting pretty on the top of Conference A in the Guinness PRO14 but they will face their toughest test of the season so far when they pay a visit to the Sportsground to take on Connacht next weekend.