Those who insist there is no such thing as a ‘friendly’ in Test rugby found their argument undermined on Saturday as a stadium slumbered and two teams went about their largely bloodless and perfunctory business.
This wasn’t on the scale of the countless non-events punters have been subjected to by their footballing counterparts. After all, the Republic of Ireland have managed to bore and bother in non-competitive fare against everyone from Oman to Brazil.
The clinical nature of the Irish first-half performance had a lot to do with the lack of tension and hum. As they had against South Africa two weeks before, the home team built the sort of lead that dispensed with any doubt before a late Puma rally that was too little too late.
It was a curious affair. Pretty much everyone agreed on that.
Adam Byrne aside.
For the 23-year old from Kill in Co. Kildare this was unforgettable. Life-defining. A first international cap. Eighty minutes under his belt. And all this just eight years on from his setting aside boyhood thoughts of making it as a soccer or GAA player.
“It was amazing,” he said. “It hasn’t really sunk in yet. From finding out on the Tuesday, that was incredible, and then getting over that. Wednesday was a day off and the team was announced on Thursday and my phone has been hopping with some really nice messages.”
It will be some time before he is able to take it all in. The dressing room was all “helter-skelter” after the final whistle on Saturday. A ‘well done’ or two and a shower and he was ushered up to the corporate areas to small talk. Then it was down to face the media.
None of it seems to have fazed him. A pleasant type with an infectious smile, Byrne is a good talker for a guy so young, but he was a little hesitant at first when asked if there had been the hint of a tear in his eye as he lined up for the national anthems.
“You know, it was extremely emotional. I tried to tell myself I wouldn’t, I tried to not let the emotions get to me, but it’s been something I’ve looked at since I was a little kid and it is hard to keep them under control when the anthem is playing. It was a special moment.”
There was nothing pre- destined about his presence along the red carpet. Though Schmidt made him Leinster’s youngest ever senior player aged just 18 back in December of 2012, his late conversion to rugby was an obstacle to overcome before he suffered an unfortunate run of injuries that further stalled his progress.
Electric at times with ball in hand, it was defensive lapses that caused concern as he enjoyed a breakthrough season at provincial level last term. And Schmidt omitted him from the squad that toured the USA and Japan during the summer.
The boss man, though, kept in touch.
A call from the Ireland coach around that time basically told him to keep the chin up, and offered a few pointers as to where he could buck up. The last four weeks in camp with the Ireland squad will have shaved untold edges off his game.There was no special treatment. Ireland camp is not renowned for its supply of cotton wool and Byrne took delight in the fact he was treated exactly the same as the likes of centurion and captain Rory Best from the very first day.
“Once the squad was named, I was delighted and I just wanted to get in there. He didn’t treat me any different to anyone else. I thought maybe after the Fiji game that that was my chance gone, but for me, I just wanted to learn as much as possible.
“We have a great coaching staff and the best players in Ireland here. I was a reserve last week (against Fiji) and even just to experience the whole atmosphere and the warm-up was incredible. I was thinking ‘this is where I want to be’. It was incredible to get the nod.”
He did well with the opportunity. Not amazing, but not bad. A couple of bursts aside, it was a debut that will be filed away under the heading ‘solid’ and a late stint standing in at centre — for the first time since his U19 days — showed that he may have more to offer besides in the seasons to come.
A good day, then.
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