‘A lot of lads have been waiting for this opportunity’: Leinster off Broadway, but understudies ready to shine

A TRIP TO South Africa has more than its fair share of challenges, but for this week at least, it might just be an ideal balm for Leinster.

When Ireland are in camp and the eastern province lose at least a starting line-up’s worth of talent, their UCD base can feel a touch on the sparse side. With a Sunday match against Southern Kings to come this time around, there was minimal time left to feel the absence.

And while the stadium at Nelson Mandela University is by no means the most glamorous venue in the competition, there is excitement among the 27-man group Leinster have sent south. Because Leo Cullen has built his success on a fierce competition for places. The upper rungs are punctuated by Lions and internationals are dotted throughout. So the men still aspiring to make their name are extremely eager to stake a claim.

“A lot of lads have been waiting for this opportunity to really put their hands up,” says Ed Byrne, who has two Lions looseheads above him in the depth chart.

“It’s good for younger lads to get game time now and take their opportunity.”

Byrne certainly felt the benefit of the mini-tour to South Africa last year. Having been plagued by injury for two years, the visit to Port Elizabeth brought him his first ever senior start for Leinster. The Carlow man has pushed on from there, taking the number one jersey on six more occasions since.

“It was a great experience down there,” says Byrne, “we had two weeks and spent some time in different places, Jo’Burg, Cape Town, Port Elizabeth and Bloemfontein. It was good to see the whole country get out and about.”

Byrne and the Leinster pack maul into Benetton last week. Source: Elena Barbini/INPHO

It’s a truncated trip this time around with the Kings match wedged between the season’s opening block of games and three-week break between Pro14 fixtures.

The advent of the Celtic Cup has been a welcome proving ground for the ex-Clongowes man, particularly when it came to scrummaging as he found himself locking horns with a seasoned Welshman and a  128kg one-time Ireland international.

“Rodney Ah You was playing  in the game against Ulster so that was obviously going to have its challenges. And then against Scarlets, Simon Gardner played, there’s some good tightheads coming through there, we’d a different pack each week, so there’s good learning from it.

“We had Seamie Twomey as a scrum coach for the Celtic Cup, which was great, it was something different and he was massively enthusiastic about it, that was good fun and we learned from him.”

With team-mates taking on Italy and resting up for Argentina, Byrne can look forward to plenty more fun in the scrum in Port Elizabeth on Sunday.

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