Ross Byrne comes of age with biggest call of his career to date 6 months ago

Ross Byrne comes of age with biggest call of his career to date

Each and every one of his teammates would have understood if he opted to kick for touch.

70 minutes into an all-out slugfest at the Aviva Stadium (451 tackles registered on the night) and Leinster won themselves a penalty on the right-hand side of the pitch, just outside the Ulster 22.

There was a slight hold-up as an injured player was seen to and it gave Leinster time for a con-fab. Outhalf Ross Byrne, wearing No.10 with Johnny Sexton out injured, was in discussion with Leinster captain Rhys Ruddock. He was already walking stiffly and the Leinster line was readying Rob Kearney to come on.

Byrne had missed conversion and penalty attempts in the first half but tuned in his radar thereafter. The score was 18-18 and Leinster could hit the front after spending all but 20 minutes of a pulsating match trailing on the scoreboard.

Ruddock was happy to go for the line, and an attacking lineout. So were the Leinster coaching staff, who conveyed a similar message during the break. Noel Reid was on the pitch too but asking him to come onto such a kick stone-cold would be a huge risk.

Byrne and Ruddock chatted for a few moments and a decision was reached. As soon as Byrne indicated he was going for the kick, Ruddock nodded and patted him on the shoulder.

A hush descended on the Aviva Stadium, as it had for kicks all match, and Byrne slotted the ball over with deadly coolness. 21-18 and off he hobbled, back to his half.

(Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile)

Play restarted with the severely cramping Leinster 10 shifting about in the fullback slot. There was a break in play, for a scrum, 30 seconds later and Kearney finally came on. Byrne received a rapturous ovation and Sexton, watching from the stands, surely raised himself from his seat too.

Leinster made that 21-18 advantage the final scoreline by practically owning the ball for the final eight minutes. Man of the match was Jack Conan, who set up Adam Byrne's try with a great break, but Ross Byrne received a large dollop of the praise on the sidelines, and in the post-match press conference. Conan declared:

"Unbelievable from Ross to slot over that penalty, you could see he was cramping up before it. To have the focus of mind and strength of character to knock that over and for it to be a device moment in the game, it was massive for us."

Leinster head coach added to the chorus, saying, "He was cramping up but we were happy if they wanted to go to the corner. He took it on himself and said 'I'll have a shy at goal'. I thought we might have gone to the corner, but Ross showed some good character.

"He was struggling, even after the kick, and came off pretty quickly after that. I thought Ross did well under difficult circumstances today."

With a try in the first half, a sublime cross-kick to Dave Kearney in the second half and some big tackles (notably ones on Stuart Mccloskey and Iain Henderson), this was a game where Byrne came of age as a man that can lead Leinster in years to come.

World Player of the Year Johnny Sexton will hve his work cut out to get that 10 jersey back for the semi-final.