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Shane Byrne Gives Intriguing Take On Who Should Start In Ireland's Back Row For The 6 Nations

Shane Byrne Gives Intriguing Take On Who Should Start In Ireland's Back Row For The 6 Nations
By Gavan Casey Updated

While Garry Ringrose and Joey Carbery justified the hype as they embarked on their international careers during Ireland's November series, it was their 23-year-old Leinster teammate Josh van der Flier who perhaps turned the most heads last month.

The former Wesley College flanker made 13 tackles in just 55 minutes on that famous day in Chicago - finishing second only to CJ Stander in Ireland's tackle count as they turned over the All Blacks.

In the second New Zealand test he again came off the bench prematurely, but on this occasion it was his offensive display which drew heaps of praise from Irish and Kiwi media alike, as Van der Flier beat three defenders and made 53 metres - second only to the meteoric Beauden Barrett.


Following on from last week's insight into Leinster boss Leo Cullen, the second of Laya Healthcare's #behindtheteam video series sees us catch up with Head Strength and Conditioning Coach at Leinster Rugby, Tom Turner, who provides an insight into the importance of science in Leinster's match preparation, and why he enjoys his role so much. You can check it out below:




Van der Flier's rabid work rate versus Australia, including 18 tackles, saw him claim Man of The Match as Ireland closed off 2016 with a ballsy win, and an extra back row to add to Joe Schmidt's ferocious arsenal ahead of the spring.

Indeed, speaking on Balls.ie's new rugby podcast Balls and Mauls, former Leinster and Ireland hooker Shane Byrne suggested that the explosive flanker should start ahead of all all-comers for the Six Nations, and at openside flanker, too:

Van der Flier was absolutely awesome. That guy should just be given the seven shirt, and nobody else allowed near it.

I have an opinion that you cannot beat a thoroughbred seven for the seven shirt - a guy who naturally can't play six or eight. He's a seven, and all the great sides have had these amazing sevens.

But Ireland produces these unbelievable back-rowers - David Wallace, Seán O'Brien. These guys will say, 'yeah, I'll put seven, six, eight on my back, I don't mind'. And they're just incredible footballers. And Seán O'Brien obviously is the man in situ at the moment. But to me, there's something in a seven. When Van der Flier comes on and misses half an hour of the game, and then still is the top tackler? [He] just has an amazing head for the game, and being in the right place at the right time.

I ain't picking half a side here, but I'd love to see him at seven and O'Brien at six. Because I think there's a ream of the pluses, the abilities that Seán O'Brien has, that we would see more of at six - not seven. Because at seven, you're busy all of the time. You're never not doing something. At six, you can line yourself up for a run or something like that; you've a little more time.

Provided 75% of the candidates remain fit coming into February, Ireland's depth at wing-forward will be the source of much contemplation for head coach Joe Schmidt; the fit-again colossus that is Peter O'Mahony proved crucial off the bench against the Wallabies, while Seán O'Brien took names in that second All Blacks test. Neither figured in Chicago.

And aside from those involved in November, the likes of Rhys Ruddock, Jack Conan, Tommy O'Donnell and numerous others are waiting in the wings.


Byrne maintains that Ireland produce quality in the back row with extraordinary consistency, and that the competition for Ireland places makes for a fascinating battle across the four provinces in the coming months:

Last year Rhys Ruddock was the best six in the country, I thought. But CJ Stander, with his incredible form, had to be fit in somewhere. Peter O'Mahony was injured, obviously. We're literally six deep in every position in the back row.

We produce back-rowers quicker and better than we produce any other players. Even back in my time there were so many players who were in with a shout in the back row, and you could pick any combination and you'd be happy with that. That's still going on.

You can listen to the full Balls and Mauls podcast with Shane Byrne, where we also discussed Pat Lam's departure from Connacht, Leo Cullen's impact at Leinster and Munster's recent resurgence - as well as this weekend's Champions Cup action - below.



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