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11th-hour Ireland cover call-ups for John Cooney and the uncapped Harry Byrne

By Liam Heagney

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Andy Farrell’s Ireland are leaving nothing to chance in the build-up Sunday’s Guinness Six Nations round two meeting with France, calling John Cooney and Harry Byrne into the squad as specialist cover at half-back should any of their four players selected in that area pull up lame ahead of kick-off. 

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A Saturday afternoon tweet by the IRFU read: “John Cooney and Harry Byrne have linked up with the Ireland squad ahead of Ireland vs France to provide additional cover for specialist positions.”

With long-established duo Johnny Sexton and Conor Murray ruled out of the game due to respective concussion and hamstring issues, Farrell is starting Billy Burns and Jamison Gibson-Park at half-back. It’s a daunting task for the duo who have just three starts and ten Test caps between them, Burns starting just once in his four-cap career and Gibson-Park a started only twice before in his six-cap career. 

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Sunday’s bench back-up is also hugely inexperienced as Ross Byrne has eleven caps, just two as a starter, and he is joined in the replacements by Craig Casey, the 21-year-old uncapped scrum-half from Munster. In total the four matchday half-backs have just 21 caps between them, seven less than the 28 which French scrum-half Antoine Dupont has to his name alone. 

For fear of getting caught short if any of Burns, Gibson-Park, Ross Byrne or Casey pull up lame before the Sunday afternoon kick-off, Farrell has summoned Harry Byrne, the uncapped younger brother of Ross, and the popular Cooney.

The Ulster scrum-half had been ignored by Farrell since making three appearances off the bench last February as the matchday back-up to the starting Murray in the opening games of last year’s 2020 Six Nations. Ireland assistant coach Richie Murphy didn’t touch on the 11th-hour cover call-ups when speaking at the Ireland captain’s run, but he said: “It’s pretty exciting to get the guys in [Burns and Gibson-Park].

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“Losing Johnny and Conor Murray is a big loss for any team but we are really excited to see Billy and Jamison take the field. Those guys have trained really well over the last few weeks and we are hoping for a big performance from both of them.”

  

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11th-hour Ireland cover call-ups for John Cooney and the uncapped Harry Byrne

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