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Irish Mirror
Irish Mirror
Michael Scully

Ross Byrne insists he's ready for "big" Six Nations debut after long wait

Ross Byrne insists he can handle the pressure despite admitting it will be "big" if he makes his first Six Nations start on Saturday.

Byrne, 27, is in line to replace Johnny Sexton against Italy at the Stadio Olimpico after Ireland's skipper and out-half suffered a groin injury in the second round victory over France.

In 16 appearances for his country, Byrne has made two starts - both came against England in Twickenham, but neither game was in the Six Nations.

"Yeah, it would be big," acknowledged the Leinster no 10. "But I’ll just treat it like I normally would, if you know what I mean.

"I’ve played a lot of games this year and I'm pretty happy with how that has gone and my preparation. I won’t be doing anything too different.

"It’s been brilliant. I’m absolutely loving being back and I think the last two performances you have seen how good they have been and there's obviously more room for growth. It’s just hugely exciting.

"Before I got the call in November, there were definitely times I thought I'd never get back in. You just have to be patient, which isn't always easy, and hopefully when you do get an opportunity you just have to make the most of it.

"For me, it (a start) would just be about getting a win for the team and a good performance."

Asked if he was definitely starting this weekend, Byrne replied "I'll find out" - but with Sexton rehabbing, his provincial and Test colleague will almost certainly be playing a crucial role as preparations to face the Azzurri ramp up.

By his own admission, Byrne has made improvements over his 18-month exile from the international arena.

And, after making the most of his unexpected chance against Australia in November by scoring the winning penalty, he impressed off the bench against Wales and France in this championship.

"You (the media) are the ones who keep saying it, maybe you can tell me," he smiled, when asked to put a finger on where his game has improved.

"Look, it’s just little bits and pieces. It hasn’t been one big change.

"Over the last couple of years I’ve played a lot of games as well. Some of them have been big games - a couple of big losses as well.

"You learn harsh lessons but it's trying to take lots of experience and improve each day.

"That’s something I've tried to do and I think it has gone pretty well over the last year or so."

Joey Carbery has been recalled this week after his shock exclusion at the start of the championship, and if Sexton is definitely out then Andy Farrell must choose between the experienced Carbery and his Munster team-mate Jack Crowley for a bench role as Byrne's back-up.

"It hasn’t really changed anything," said Byrne. "There's competition across every position.

"But it's the same in Leinster. You are dealing with that competition every day so I haven’t been even worried about what the other lads are doing because I can’t control that.

"I’ve really been looking after my own performance and trying to get the best out of myself.

"When you're not in the squad, you see the squad doing so well and you want to be a part of it. Everyone wants to be part of a winning team, so it definitely gives you a little bit of edge that you strive to get back into the team.

"It's definitely a confidence booster when you get back in the squad, and then trying to get as much game time as possible.

"I'm not trying to do anything too different, I've been very happy with how I've been going. It's just doing what I've been doing and trying to grow bits and pieces off that."

Dan Sheehan, his Leinster and Ireland colleague, reckons Byrne has been hard done by in terms of media criticism.

"Probably the media were harsh on him over the last few years because from what I saw inside the doors of Leinster and Ireland was someone who is calm and can make plays happen," said Sheehan.

"Everyone I think is really comfortable with him playing on both teams.

“I think he has everything in the locker. His game control and his ability to see space and managing the pack around him, I think most good 10s have it and Ross definitely has it.

"I’ve always found it comfortable playing with Ross. I was glad to see him coming back into the squad.”

And Byrne commented: "I don't really read too much into the media. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion.

"I've just been looking after myself. I can't control what the media says. For me, it's just been looking after my own performances."


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