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20th Aug 2023

Jack Crowley not letting Ross Byrne out of his sights, as Cian Prendergast books World Cup ticket


Ross Byrne

“Questions will be asked over his reliability from the tee.”

Ireland defeated England at Aviva Stadium, on Saturday, with several frontliners getting a useful run-out to start their seasons. We asked Glenn Kelly to keep a close eye on Ross Byrne and Cian Prendergast as they tried to show their World Cup credentials. Here is what he made of the duo:

The Airport waiting lounge. You’ve made it through check-in, security, even got yourself a pint on the way. But now you’re stuck in a claustrophobic greenhouse wondering if you will make the flight.

Sure, there are some lucky sods that are flying first-class, they get called up to board, no bother. Then there are the noisy lot at the back, that have been sinking stout since daybreak. There’s no chance they’re getting on. Now there’s just you and a couple of mates that have booked “jump” seats. You’ve given it your all, but you’re in limbo-land. Your destiny in someone else’s hands.

A few of Ireland’s hopefuls find themselves in this “airport lounge” world and Saturday’s 29-10 win over rivals England was, for some, a last chance saloon to get boarded, when manager Andy Farrell names his final World Cup squad on August 28.

Two of those “living on the edge” is fly-half Ross Byrne and No.8 Cian Prendergast. Byrne is pretty much locked in, especially with Johnny sexton serving a suspension, but he still needs to convince many folks. Prendergast has impressed many in the Ireland camp but Saturday was only his first Test start.

Ross ByrneRoss Byrne and Cian Prendergast. (Credit: Sportsfile)

‘Ross Byrne and Cian Prendergast have their passports ready’

Let’s start with the number 10, Ross Byrne. It would be fair to say that the Dubliner’s 69 minute-outing was a mixed bag on Saturday, finishing the game much stronger than he started.

Coming into the summer series, Byrne was neck-and-neck with Munster starlet Jack Crowley for the back-up to Johnny Sexton. However, with Crowley’s confident performance against Italy, the heat has been amped up on Byrne to find an extra gear. He also has the more versatile Ciarán Frawley breathing down his neck. Four into three don’t go.

Byrne’s afternoon began on a positive note, linking up well with Prendergast in midfield on a couple of occasions and playing a hand in Bundee Aki’s ninth minute try, when he set Peter O’Mahony on his way with a smart flat pass.

However, as the half progressed, things somewhat unravelled for the Leinster man. His kicking, on occasions, was too deep, giving little chance to his chasers in the aerial battle. A couple of his passes also failed to find the target. He appeared keen to get involved in some wraparound action with the loose forwards, but all to often this was read by the English defence, or he didn’t have the pace to execute properly.

With three missed conversions over the course of the game, questions will be asked over his reliability from the tee, matters not helped when Crowley landed a stunning two-pointer from the touchline after Keith Earls dotted down in the corner.

Byrne did grow into the game as the second half progressed, most noticeably with a big hit on Elliot Daly and then finding man-of-the-match Mack Hansen with a skip-pass, before the winger scored out wide.

Once more though, the gloss of his final 10 minutes will be over-shadowed by the appearance of Crowley. That conversion, followed by some fine tackles and an overall more energetic display, means that it is Byrne with all the work to do if he is to board Farrell Airways.

For Cian Prendergast, this was always a shot to nothing. If he gets on the plane he will do so on the basis of a truly utility forward, covering second-row and back row. In only his fifth ever game starting at No.8, the rather odd selection must surely be to test him were Jack Conan fail to recover from injury in time for France.

The 23-year-old’s inexperience at the back of the scrum was noticeable on occasions in the first-half, having the ball stripped on a couple of occasions, but he also won a couple of penalties on the deck, to his credit.

Like Byrne, as the second period progressed so did Prendergast’s confidence. He carried hard and his tackling was his main attribute, not surprising as most of his back row experience is at six.

It is likely to be a shoot-out between him and Joe McCarthy for that final forward spot and on this showing, the Kildare man’s versatility just might earn him a ticket.

With one game to go in this summer series of warm-up tests, against Samoa in Bayonne next Saturday, Farrell will have the majority of his squad selected.

Just don’t rule out a bolter or two. Byrne and Prendergast have their passports ready.

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