Highlights on Off The Ball

02:00 PM-06:00 PM

Highlights on Off The Ball


Jack Crowley, Ben Healy and Harry Byrne should play as much AIL Rugby as possible | Wednesday Night Rugby

Harry Byrne and all of Ireland's young fringe players should play regularly in the AIL, according to Keith Wood and Gerry Thornley.

Journalist Gerry Thornley and former Ireland hooker Keith Wood joined Joe Molloy on Wednesday Night Rugby to discuss Ireland's fringe players.

"He's more exciting than Ross, but he's less reliable than Ross."

Gerry Thornley lamented the recent display from Harry Byrne against Ulster. The Leinster out-half came off the bench and made mistake after mistake in his side's loss. But it's not as simple as blaming Harry and saying he needs to get better. It's December and Byrne has barely played any rugby this year.

He's a 22-year-old rising star who was included in the Ireland squad. He's supposed to be playing a lot of rugby. But the combination of Covid and the new structures in European rugby have limited his chances.

Byrne has played less than 40 minutes for Leinster this year. He came off the bench in one game for Ireland.

Leinster have a massive squad. Munster have a relatively big squad too. Lots of players in Ireland are going to play a sparse amount of rugby this year. That's a major problem for everyone. During a discussion on Wednesday Night Rugby, Keith Wood suggested that more players should play AIL rugby regularly.

Jack Crowley and Ben Healy of Munster notably faced off against each other in the AIL earlier this year.

"I feel for Harry Byrne," Wood said.

"A few things didn't go right for him. That happens. But now he's dealing with an entirely different emotion compared to a couple of weeks ago. If we have this curtailed season as it sits, you really want to see those guys playing rugby at AIL level. They have to play rugby. The idea of being a rugby player is to get on the field. It isn't to train for nine months of the year."

Jonathan Sexton famously walks onto a rugby field for Ireland after not playing for months and plays his best rugby. He's rare in that sense. And he's also at the end of his career, so it's not something most players can replicate. Byrne needs to play enough so that he can play through his mistakes. He won't do that for Leinster.

And he's one of Leinster's better prospects, so he's playing more than most.

The other fringe players desperately need to play actual games even if it is at AIL level. The intensity of live action and the situations you are put in are how you develop individually. Without them, they will become unrefined prospects. Gerry Thornley pointed to Ronan O'Gara's development in the AIL as evidence before he played for Ireland.

"A lot of these young talented players, same with Jack Crowley in Munster, they've just played so little rugby since the outbreak of this pandemic. Jack Crowley has played even less than Harry Byrne. The AIL, what a great experience that would be for these players. Crowley has been playing, albeit sometimes at fullback, for Cork Con. Ben Healy's been playing a bit for Garryown at out-half.

"The more game time in the AIL the better, I think.

"That's how Ronan O'Gara cut his teeth with Cork Con as well. I know those are different times but Harry Byrne definitely needs more minutes on the pitch. I do think there's a huge talent there. Stuart Lancaster, Andy Farrell, Leo Cullen, they're not bad judges of talent. They see something clearly in Harry Byrne.

"But that will only come to fruition with more game time. It's the position that O'Gara has always said takes the longest to learn. The more experience you have in that role the better."

Jack Carty is staying at Connacht and Ulster haven't been linked with either young player, so Munster and Leinster's young out halves need to find routes to the field. Neither Sexton nor Carbery will be displaced provincially, so Ireland and the IRFU will need to be inventive to get their fringe players minutes.

Keith Earls' anecdote reveals Andy Farrell's character


Team of Us. Everyone In.

Vodafone. The main sponsor of the Irish Rugby Team

Download the brand new OffTheBall App in the Play Store & App Store right now! We've got you covered!

Subscribe to OffTheBall's YouTube channel for more videos, like us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter for the latest sporting news and content.

Read more about

AIL Rugby Ben Healy Harry Byrne Ireland Rugby Jack Crowley