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'Want to represent Ireland': Why former Force star left Aussie rugby behind

By Finn Morton
Force player Byron Ralston (C) is congratulated by teammate Richard Kahui (R) after scoring a try against the Rebels during the Super Rugby match between the Melbourne Rebels and the Western Force (Photo by WILLIAM WEST/AFP via Getty Images)

Former Junior Wallabies squad member Byron Ralston will always be remembered as the player who scored the Western Force’s first try back in Super Rugby.

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Ralston announced himself to the rugby world with the historic score at the Sydney Cricket Ground a few years ago, and went on to impress as a right winger throughout his rookie campaign.

After a breakout season at Super Rugby level in blue, black and gold, the utility back had emerged as a player to watch within Australian rugby.

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But fast forward a few years, and he isn’t playing Super Rugby anymore – he’s not even living in the southern hemisphere.

Instead, the 22-year-old is now playing alongside the likes of Mack Hansen and Bundee Aki at Connacht in the United Rugby Championship.

After growing up in Australia and spending four seasons at the Force, Ralston decided that moving to Ireland was the best thing for his development.

But that’s not to say that’s the only driving factor, either.

Speaking with RugbyPass about his decision to leave Australia, Ralston expressed his desire to “play for Ireland.”

“I think for any professional rugby player who has the potential opportunity to represent their country at international level, it’s definitely a driving factor,” Ralston said.

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“I’d be lying if I said I wouldn’t want to represent Ireland at the international stage.

“I went to the Ireland versus Wallabies Test match at the Aviva in the Autumn Nations (Series), and even through speaking to Mack… you can just see the passion and how fruitful the rugby is over here through the fans.

“So to say I didn’t think about that in my decision making, I’d be lying to you. But certainly I do know there’s a lot of hard work in between that has to be done before that’s attainable.

“To play for Ireland, to put it in pretty plain words, it’d be sick.”

Ralston grew up with a childhood dream that a lot of people in Australia share: he wanted to play for the Wallabies.

After playing club rugby in Brisbane as a junior, the Darwin-born talent went on to captain Gregory Terrace in the prestigious GPS high school competition.

Then, after playing for Brothers in Queensland Premier Rugby, Ralston got his chance with the Force.

Without a doubt, that “childhood dream” of donning Wallaby gold played a part in his journey.

But he had to let it go, at least for now.

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“While I was at the Force, I was never really getting too far ahead of myself in that aspect, I was just trying to play consistent, well enough rugby for the Force,” he added.

“In terms of when I left, I certainly knew that was the point where I was going to release that childhood dream, that I wasn’t going to be playing for the Wallabies.

“Although that was hard to come (by), the aspects of playing over here in Ireland, and playing in Europe, playing… that Champions League style of rugby, just the allure of that was a lot more enticing for me.

“Being over in a different settling lifestyle wise and being able to travel, and being able to experience different cultures, it just felt like it was the right fit for me at the time.

“Particularly for my own development as a person and as a rugby player, I felt like I could get more out of myself moving away from the comfort of Australia and Australian rugby.”

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Jon 7 hours ago
Why Sam Cane's path to retirement is perfect for him and the All Blacks

> It would be best described as an elegant solution to what was potentially going to be a significant problem for new All Blacks coach Scott Robertson. It is a problem the mad population of New Zealand will have to cope with more and more as All Blacks are able to continue their careers in NZ post RWCs. It will not be a problem for coaches, who are always going to start a campaign with the captain for the next WC in mind. > Cane, despite his warrior spirit, his undoubted commitment to every team he played for and unforgettable heroics against Ireland in last year’s World Cup quarter-final, was never unanimously admired or respected within New Zealand while he was in the role. Neither was McCaw, he was considered far too passive a captain and then out of form until his last world cup where everyone opinions changed, just like they would have if Cane had won the WC. > It was never easy to see where Cane, or even if, he would fit into Robertson’s squad given the new coach will want to be building a new-look team with 2027 in mind. > Cane will win his selections on merit and come the end of the year, he’ll sign off, he hopes, with 100 caps and maybe even, at last, universal public appreciation for what was a special career. No, he won’t. Those returning from Japan have already earned the right to retain their jersey, it’s in their contract. Cane would have been playing against England if he was ready, and found it very hard to keep his place. Perform, and they keep it however. Very easy to see where Cane could have fit, very hard to see how he could have accomplished it choosing this year as his sabbatical instead of 2025, and that’s how it played out (though I assume we now know what when NZR said they were allowing him to move his sabbatical forward and return to NZ next year, they had actually agreed to simply select him for the All Blacks from overseas, without any chance he was going to play in NZ again). With a mammoth season of 15 All Black games they might as well get some value out of his years contract, though even with him being of equal character to Richie, I don’t think they should guarantee him his 100 caps. That’s not what the All Blacks should be about. He absolutely has to play winning football.

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