‘His skill-set was always above his age-grade’: Test rugby always a matter of ‘when’ not ‘if’ for Ross Byrne

December 3, 2022 0 By JohnValbyNation

“I PLAYED WITH him when he was in sixth class,” says Rory O’Loughlin.

So it’s fair to say he knows Ross Byrne better than most and the centre can see the young out-half quickly developing a more “ruthless” streak.

Byrne has proved to be a massive bonus for Leinster in recent years, slotting in and taking an opportunity to guide the eastern province with two hands when both Jonathan Sexton and Joey Carbery in late 2016.

O’Loughlin and Byrne in training at the Aviva last season. Source: Oisin Keniry/INPHO

He remains uncapped despite consistently keeping Carbery out of the out-half slot in the years since and touring with Ireland in Australia during the summer, but a first Test is surely in the offing, either from the bench or the start, in Chicago this weekend.

For O’Loughlin, the international quality was always evident in Byrne. Even before the natural 10 got his books for secondary school.

“I think you always kind of knew it would happen at some stage, maybe not as early as it has now,” says O’Loughlin, who won international honours in Japan last year.

“It is well-deserved. I thought he was going to get capped in the summer, but that didn’t happen for him. But I think it has been his goal to get capped this November and hopefully he will this weekend in Chicago.”

Byrne heads to catch his flight to O’Hare. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Anyone who has watched Byrne in action with Leinster regularly will be confident they won’t see him fazed. And those who play closest to him attest to seeing him take on traits and lessons from Johnny Sexton.

Not that his team-mates will always thank him for his increasingly fierce demands,  even a World Cup-finalist like Scott Fardy didn’t escape censure this weekend in Italy, taking the wrong line on a move and getting utterly torched by the showrunner.

That attitude is coming to the 23-year-old as he progresses through the ranks, the raw ability and composure under pressure has always been there, according to his fellow 2012 Leinster Senior Cup winner.

Ross Byrne takes a touchline conversion for St Michael’s in 2013. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

“He’s always had a really calm head about him. I played with him when he was in sixth class in St Michael’s and I was in first year and he got called up to our U13s team,” recalls O’Loughlin.

“You could tell his skill-set was always above his age-grade, he could catch and pass and kick better than most players on the team and that got him on to teams before he was physically ready. 

O’Loughlin, who will be among Leinster’s 27-man squad travelling to South Africa today for a Sunday meeting with Southern Kings, adds:

“He understands now that he has to be the dominant driver and I think he’s learnt a lot through Johnny.

Byrne in training with Ireland during the summer. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

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“Johnny directs a team, be it in a walk-through of early on he sets out the standard in every session, walk-through or meeting and Ross has adapted that and brought that more ruthless edge.

“He’s a very laid-back lad, out-halves have to be a director at times and he’s grown into that role in the last season or two and that’s what is paying off for him now.”