Warren Gatland comments on Tadhg Beirne mark clear path to Test starts
"He was such a pain in the arse!"
Sean O'Brien used to hate training against Tadhg Beirne. Every player that has faced the Kildare native in training or matches over the years would agree with O'Brien's statement.
Beirne is a nuisance, and he prides himself on the fact. In terms of breakdown operators, there are few better in world rugby at causing carnage when he is in top form.
The Munster forward has been selected for the Lions as he can cover second row and back row - from jerseys 4 to 8, in fact - but head coach Warren Gatland laid out a clear path for him into his Test plans.
"He's been very, very good," said Gatland. "At this stage, we're probably looking at him as a back-row, but we know he can cover second row.
"I spoke with him the other day and asked, 'What's your point of difference?'. He knew straight away what it was.
"It's his ability at the breakdown, and turnovers - and the amount of turnovers he creates in a game is pretty special... those type of things can change a game, and you need players like Tadhg to create an impact in a match, and he is able to do that."
Tom Curry looks to be the main No.6 jersey competition for Beirne, but the England star is capable of starting at openside.
Beirne gets the first chance to impress, against Japan, and Gatland's comments on him being primarily a back-row has focused the mind. He knows what he has to do if he wants to start in the Test Series against the Springboks.
Gatland also selected the Ireland centres Robbie Henshaw and Bundee Aki to face Japan, and he was fulsome in his praise for both men.
"It’s the two Connacht lads coming together and I think they are obviously great mates as well so that kinda helps," Gat;and commented.
"A lot of people sort of see Bundee as someone, and we know he is capable of getting the ball across the gainline, but he’s got a lot more than just that to offer. He has got some real rugby skill, some great footwork, and a passing and offloading game. So we are expecting some real quality rugby out of both of those two men.
"I thought Robbie was the outstanding midfielder in the Six Nations. He’s great in the air. I have seen him develop, improve and mature from four years ago.
"That’s been probably one of the biggest highlights for me just in terms of how he has developed into an absolute world-class midfielder."
The battle for Test spots is about to ramp up.
*A very special British & Irish House of Rugby show - fronted by Sean O'Brien and Alex Goode - will start on June 25 and run for the duration of the Lions Tour. Follow and subscribe to it HERE