Wayne Pivac: Give our Beirne a go, Joe

Tadhg Beirne.

The words of fellow New Zealander Wayne Pivac may have been ringing in Joe Schmidt’s ears yesterday as the Ireland head coach and his assistants finalised their squad for next month’s tour to Australia.

The Grand Slam winners depart for Queensland’s Gold Coast on June 1 ahead of the first of three Tests against the Wallabies in Brisbane on June 9 with head coach Schmidt set to name a squad of 32 or 33 players at around lunchtime today.

Schmidt will have to cross fingers and hope the majority of his likely squad comes through this Saturday’s Guinness PRO14 final at the Aviva Stadium and that does not just mean his large Leinster contingent.

Scarlets head coach Pivac is hoping Munster-bound lock/blindside flanker Tadhg Beirne also makes the plane to Australia having expressed his belief that his team’s player of the season deserves his chance to make the jump to Test rugby.

Beirne, 26, has seen his career blossom since failing to make his mark in his home province at Leinster and making the decision to jump ship to west Wales two seasons ago. He was pivotal in Scarlets’ run to both the 2017 PRO12 title and this season’s twin-pronged assault on silverware, which reached the Champions Cup semi-finals and this weekend’s inaugural PRO14 final.

Schmidt has already called Beirne in to Ireland camp, inviting the former Clongowes Wood student to Carton House for a few days before the opening Six Nations match in February to get a feel for the set-up, taking part in a couple of training sessions, and attending team meetings.

He appears primed to take the next step in Australia, ahead of his move to Munster, where he will come under the auspices of the IRFU’s player welfare programme having clocked up more than 2,200 minutes as a Scarlets player this season.

“I personally think he would be a great addition to the squad,” Pivac said of Beirne. “He can certainly cover two of three positions. I think on form alone, he deserves an opportunity.

“I hope Joe does take him down there because I don’t think he will let Ireland down. I think he will play with a lot of pride and a lot of passion. He will do a good job.”

Beirne will certainly be missed at Scarlets, where last Saturday he picked up a clutch of honours at the region’s annual end-of-season awards, the Fans’ Player and Players’ Player as well as try of the season for his Champions Cup score against Bath during the pool stages.

“He’s had a massive impact, to be fair,” Scarlets captain Ken Owens said. “He came as a relative unknown, he was a boy who hadn’t played a lot of PRO12 or PRO14 rugby and I think he’s really matured and developed his game with the help of the coaches here.

“He’s become a smarter rugby player and it says everything when you win the Players’ Player of the Year and Supporters’ Player of the Year awards last week.

“He has made a massive impact and I just think he will be a big loss.”

As Scarlets were doing their pre-final media in Llanelli yesterday, Schmidt and his coaching team were in Dublin, sitting down for their final tour selection meeting ahead of today’s announcement.

The belief is that the Ireland boss will take as experienced squad as he possibly can with opportunities for extended time with his leadership group a premium between now and the World Cup in Japan in 16 months.

Despite talk that fly-half Johnny Sexton may be left at home to rest and recharge this summer, Schmidt will be keen to have his on-field general on a summer tour for the first time since June 2014, while Peter O’Mahony’s last tour came the previous year when he captained Ireland in the United States and Canada as Schmidt took the reins and Les Kiss served as acting head coach.

Schmidt’s decision is also based in the statistics that the player management programme provides with game-time and training loads monitored throughout the season and showing Ireland’s Lions contingent last summer are showing no ill-effects from the tour to New Zealand having not returned to action with their provinces until last October.

One player who will not have expected to be included for the Australia series is France-bound full-back Simon Zebo, who in an interview with Donal Lenihan for RTÉ’s Against The Head programmed, aired on Monday night, admitted his shock at being omitted from the Ireland squad last November having announced his decision to leave Munster for Racing 92 this summer.

Asked by the Irish Examiner columnist if he had been taken by surprise by the decision, which extended into the Six Nations campaign, Zebo said: “I was. I probably didn’t expect it to be so quick and so blunt.

“I wouldn’t be bitter or anything about it. The squad have done really well and I wish everyone involved all the best. But I obviously would have loved to be involved in the Six Nations and the November series. But that’s the way it is.

“You’ve got to accept that some decisions have consequences and unfortunately that’s the way it had to go for me.”


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