Search icon

Rugby

01st Aug 2023

Ross Byrne shuts down question on drop goals and Leinster tactics for next season

Patrick McCarry

The brow furrows and the shoulders tense. A Leinster question has been slipped in.

I had the good fortune of sitting down with Leinster and Ireland outhalf Ross Byrne for 15 minutes, recently, and check in on how World Cup preparations were going.

Byrne is a guy that is much more at ease when you through rugby questions his way, but he did offer some decent insights on life away from the game and what he does when he is not obsessing over that passion, and career, of his.

There had been a couple of questions weighing on my mind, though, since Leinster lost the Champions Cup final to La Rochelle, back in May. Byrne just had the misfortune to be the first Leinster player to sit opposite me, and was patient enough to entertain two questions on how one of the slickest sides in the game start getting back over that trophy hump.

Such are the fine margins at the heady end of professional club rugby that Leinster were just one error, misjudgement or mental slip away from capturing their fifth European Cup. Had Michael Ala’alatoa, for example, not been so forceful in his clear-out of Georges Henri Colombe, Leinster could have turned pressure into points to clinch the game.

That red card was costly, in the extreme, but two moments involving Ross Byrne also stood out. First off was his decision not to go for a long-distance penalty, on 75 minutes, when Jonathan Danty was yellow-carded. Leinster were 27-26 behind and Byrne has made kicks from a similar distance. A miss would have led to a restart and another bite at the cherry. Post-match, Leo Cullen said he backed the decision of his players to kick, instead, for an attacking lineout.

The other moment was, with Leinster only a point back, Byrne never once dropped back in the pocket for drop goal, or even feigned interest to give La Rochelle something else to think about. It has been argued that Byrne was seeking a drop goal but that Jamison Gibson-Park was more interested in quick-tempo attacks based around the forwards [looking for a try]. Whoever was calling the shots, Leinster never looked close to using that tactic.

Looking into the 28-year-old’s career statistics, Byrne has just one drop goal in his senior career and it was registered against Ospreys in 2017, to win the game.

When I spoke with Byrne, I raised the lack of career drop goals and Leinster’s in-game tactics with him. He made interesting comments on both matters.

Ross ByrneJonathan Sexton of Leinster consoles Ross Byrne of Leinster after the Heineken Champions Cup Final, at Aviva Stadium. (Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile)

Ross Byrne on drop goals and Leinster tactics

In his entire Test career, up until the 2007 World Cup, All Blacks outhalf Dan Carter had struck only one drop goal [43 matches]. In that period, no-one remarked on it much because New Zealand’s record when Carter played was W: 40, L: 3.

At the World Cup, in France, the All Blacks then came a cropper against the hosts and lost 20-18. The Kiwi media locked onto the fact that Carter and his teammates never once shaped for, or considered, a drop at goal.

Carter went away to work on that element of the game and famously landed a drop goal in the 2008 Super Rugby final win over Waratahs. Over the rest of his career, he would kick 13 more, including a game-clincher against Ireland [in 2012] and in his final two Test matches – the 2015 World Cup semi-final and final.

Raising that Dan Carter mid-career adaptation to Ross Byrne, I asked if working more drop goals into his game was something he had given much thought to. He replied:

“Yeah, it is something you practice. Whether you have the option, or get to do it or not, in a game, that is obviously a completely different conversation.”

Asked, then, if working more drop goals into Leinster’s game-plan for next, and future seasons, is something worth exploring, Byrne commented:

“I don’t think so. If Leinster are beating a team by a certain score, I don’t think we are going to start letting up and trying to snap drop goals from different areas of the pitch, as opposed to putting the biggest score possible on a team.”

Dropping back in the pocket and looking to lap over an extra three points, or seeking to snatch a victory with a drop goal in the final stages of a game, is not really in the Leinster D.N.A. Harry Byrne has never had a drop goal in his senior career and the only ones Johnny Sexton had in the past decade were in the green of Ireland.

Leinster will back themselves to claim some silverware next season, and going on the road for the Champions Cup may add some steel to some of their players, but keep an eye out for a drop goal or two in 2023/24. Even a couple will give defences other ideas when they are shaping up on attacks.

Ireland jerseyRoss Byrne was speaking at the launch of Canterbury’s Ireland Rugby World Cup Jerseys which will be worn by the Irish team in France this autumn. The jerseys are on sale now at Canterbury.com, and via Intersports Elverys, in store and on Elverys.ie.

Related Articles:

House of Rugby hands out 2022/23 season awards