Johnny Sexton’s early departure from Leinster’s victory over Exeter last weekend for yet another Head Injury Assessment (HIA) enabled Ross Byrne to deliver his best and most important performance yet in the blue jersey. Whilst not in any way seeking to construct the rugby obituary of the former World Player Of The Year just yet, rugby aficionados can rest assured that the pivotal fly half position will be in safe hands with the burgeoning Byrne.
Not only that, but neither the national team nor the capital-based province will want for backup thanks to the oncoming talents of both Byrne’s brother Harry and Meath’s Hugh O’Sullivan of the great sporting family from Moynalvey.
Now, in some areas of the field, Munster have begun to replenish their stocks. Players like Jeremy Loughman, The Wychereley brothers, Gavin Coombes, Craig Casey and Shane Daly have them on a sound footing in most areas of the field but the elephant still hasn’t been herded out of the room. That being their ongoing shortcomings in the No. 10 shirt. Let’s be honest, the southern province have been faffing around in that most vital of berths since Ronan O’Gara took everything bar the horse to France in 2013. Most of those who auditioned to fill the void left by his departure wouldn’t even be fit to carry his gearbag.
There were those – this corner included – who thought or at least hoped the surprising recruitment of Joey Carbery would remedy the problem. However, well placed sources close to the higher echelons of Irish rugby imparted in this direction a good while ago that within the Leinster inner sanctum, the Athy man was never really thought of as an out half. Very much being seen with a view to to taking up station at full back or even as a utility back. Whereas down south he was dispatched to be an emergency sticking plaster over a gaping wound.
While it won’t directly solve the issue at hand, the slightly surprising news of Simon Zebo’s impending return to home ground is a timely boost for the stagnant reds. Depending on where Munster decide to deploy the returning hero, it could, in a roundabout sort of way, open the door to, for example, Rory Scannell to slot in at 10 if that were the desired solution.
Temptation would of course be to parachute Ben Healy into the fulcrum of the team, especially given the understanding he will presumably have developed with Craig Casey whilst coming up through the ranks. Then, there are those with good lines on matters in Munster who’d contend that the hitherto unexposed Jack Crowley may in fact end up skipping past a few in the pecking order ad being fast-tracked into the fast lane of top level sport sooner rather than later.
Such is the regard in which the youngster is held that none other than Ronan O’Gara was said to be desperate to lure him to France for his La Rochelle side. What would be a far more desirable outcome would be if the Cork Con. man were to come home and assume the hotseat in Thomond. We live in hope.
In the meantime, though, Zebo being homeward bound is another step in the right directiion. The structure of a good team is in place but there still remains a considerable gulf between them and those at the absoulte eliite level in the sport. At least the return of the fleet-footed flyer should restore some of the leadership which has been so glaringly missing for too long.