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The Power Plays: Authoritative Display From Ross Byrne Begs Six Nations Question

Ross Byrne

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There was no shortage of superb displays from Leinster in their 13-6 win over Munster at Thomond Park on Saturday night. 

What clearly stood out was the defensive masterclass put on by the reigning champions which was spearheaded by captain Scott Fardy and the increasingly prominent Will Connors who completed a remarkable 23 tackles with a 100% completion record throughout his 76-minute, lung-bursting shift.

The onlooking Andy Farrell would no doubt have been impressed.

Ross Byrne
Guinness PRO14, Thomond Park, Limerick 28/12/2019
Munster vs Leinster
Ireland Head coach Andy Farrell
Mandatory Credit ©INPHO/Bryan Keane

That rearguard effort was crucial in keeping Munster out, especially at the end of the second half as Johann van Graan’s side lay siege to the Leinster line. Ultimately, however, the clear distinction between the sides was the fact Leinster crossed the whitewash and Munster did not.

Ed Byrne’s first-half try proved to be the match-winning moment and the man who orchestrated that move was Ross Byrne, who not only played a vital role in the formulation of that try, but he also executed a tactical masterclass in the opening 40 minutes to keep Munster pinned in their own half – the southern province’s three-point return and 45% territory for the first half a testament to that.

A strong gale was blowing from the Cratloe Road end on Saturday night, and the eastern province, led by Byrne, played the conditions to perfection as they lay the foundations for their famous win.

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With less than five minutes on the clock, a loose box-kick from Rowan Osborne falls kindly to Mike Haley. The Munster fullback then combines nicely with Shane Daly down the blindside to make significant ground in the Leinster half.

With quick ball, Munster look dangerous, but momentum is halted as a loose pass from JJ Hanrahan goes behind Rory Scannell and Sam Arnold must backtrack to secure possession. After a few phases, Nick McCarthy decides to kick and it’s here we see Leinster with their first real period of possession and the taking charge of Byrne.

After the failure to successfully retain McCarthy’s kick, Munster’s backfield are not as quickly set as they would like to be. Byrne spots this brilliantly and he executes a superb kick to land in the space (yellow) between Haley and Daly. The ball (white) bounces favourably into this space and into touch just inside the Munster 22.

Ross Byrne
Source: TG4
Ross Byrne
Source: TG4

If you cannot view the above clip, click here.

From the resulting lineout, Munster manage to clear their lines but Leinster are soon back on the attack. Despite going through multiple phases, the visitors are failing to get over the gainline – that is until Byrne (white) plays a lovely flat pass to an onrushing Devin Toner (yellow).

Ross Byrne
Source: TG4

Toner powers into contact and gains a couple of metres. On the very next phase, Byrne looks up and opts to kick towards Haley who is covering the far corner of the pitch. Byrne puts in a low, spiralled kick, which unfortunately from Haley’s point of view, bounces over his head and into touch.

It’s excellent execution from Byrne. There is no guarantee that he will get the bounce that he is looking for but the way he kicked the ball increases the likelihood of it happening and he is rewarded for his effort in this instance.

Ross Byrne
Source: TG4

If you cannot view the above clip, click here.

From the resulting lineout, Munster clear their lines but only barely. Leinster now have a lineout inside the Munster 22 and their grip on this stage of the game is only becoming tighter. It is here we see the immediate build-up to Ed Byrne’s crucial and game-defining try.

A strong maul effort gains a few metres until Osborne (1) unleashes the ball to Conor O’Brien (4). O’Brien collects the ball at pace and runs directly at Rory Scannell (1), committing the Cork man to the tackle before unleashing the ball to Ross Byrne (3) who is running a loop.

At this point, it’s really important to highlight the role of Jimmy O’Brien (5). The outside centre is running a hard, decoy line against Sammy Arnold (2) which causes the Munster man to hesitate and stand up, opening up the space (yellow) for Byrne to attack.

Ross Byrne
Source: TG4

Once Conor O’Brien releases the ball to Byrne, the Leinster out-half accelerates into the space while also being cognisant of the fact that he needs to keep his hands free for the offload to James Lowe (2), who like Byrne, is also running a loop.

Ross Byrne
Source: TG4

If you cannot view the above clip, click here.

Lowe is eventually hauled down by Haley and Chris Cloete, the latter of which showed great work rate to get across and cover as he was placed next to the maul at the very beginning of the move.

Nevertheless, this highlights another positive aspect of Byrne’s play. The outhalf was able to step, accelerate and offload to Lowe which ultimately set up the score.

Ed Byrne finished off the move a few phases later after some good work in the tight exchanges as Leinster edged increasingly closer to the Munster line.

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In the past, we have seen Ross Byrne put in some excellent performances for Leinster but they have often, through no fault of his own, been on the back of a commanding and powerful effort from his pack.

With so much time on the ball, Byrne is able to dictate the play with his large array of skills but it was good to see that he was able to produce this in a much tighter game under difficult conditions.

The opening 40 minutes from Byrne saw him use him utilise his excellent kicking from hand while he also showed off his distribution talents in the build-up to the only try of the game.

In the second half, it was a different type of performance as Leinster played into a strong wind and also due to their opponents having the majority of possession. Still, Byrne was able to prosper by identifying space with ball in hand to make a clear line break for his side while he also did not shirk from his defensive responsibilities with nine tackles to his name.

A very strong performance which will no doubt give Ireland head coach Andy Farrell plenty to ponder ahead of the Six Nations.

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Author: Sean McMahon

Sean is Deputy Editor and head rugby writer. You can contact him by email seanmc@punditarena.com or on Twitter

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