‘I don’t know if I ever thought I’d be here’ – Our six 2019/20 debutants
April 2, 2020 1:40 pm Ryan Corry
Of the 51 players to have appeared for Leinster Rugby in the 2019/20 campaign, six of those were debutants donning the blue jersey as a senior player for the first time.
It can be a daunting experience making your first appearance for the province in either Guinness PRO14 or Heineken Champions Cup action.
Two of those six caps, Harry Byrne and Michael Milne, had their maiden bows in the unpredictable first round of fixtures as all teams get to grips with each other’s summer changes.
Byrne was the first to enter the fray, replacing his brother Ross at outhalf, something the older Byrne described as ‘a very special day’ for their family.
He also parted some words of wisdom to Harry before leaving the pitch, something the younger Byrne says helped in easing him into the game.
“It was brilliant. It was pretty special to come on for him as well, he gave me a nice chat as soon as I came in just to settle me a bit,” he said.
The young outhalf has since gone on to make nine appearances this season, the most of any of this year’s new caps.
Just moments after Harry’s introduction, Academy prop Milne was added to the mix and he was suitably delighted with his appearance.
Speaking at full-time in the 32-27 win at Stadio Monigo, the Offaly native said: “Can’t believe it, I just can’t stop smiling at the minute. I’ve my sister and her boyfriend here so it’s good to have that as well. They loved it, it was a cool experience.
“I don’t know if I ever thought I’d be here but I’m enjoying every minute of it.”
Rowan Osborne was the next player to be inducted following an impressive Celtic Cup run with Noel McNamara’s Leinster ‘A’.
The scrum-half was named amongst the replacements for the first home game of the season against Ospreys on October 4.
Osborne then followed that up with his first try the following week against Edinburgh and made his first start for the province during the Christmas interpro at Thomond Park when Jamison Gibson-Park, named to start, pulled out through illness.
“I arrived at UCD because we were travelling down the night before and Leo told me I was going to be starting. I was pretty nervous,” Osborne said of the first start.
“But thankfully we got the win in the end. It was tough conditions, I remember the wind was horrific. There was moments where we made a mistake or Munster did something good, the crowd are straight away on your back. You’re thinking ‘We’re under pressure here’.”
During the early-November win over Dragons, Jack Aungier became the second new Academy front row to appear for the senior side this year.
“It’s a pretty proud moment for myself and my family,” he said. “It’s good to get out in front of a packed RDS, in front of the home fans.”
He was later followed into that front row by Hawaii-born Roman Salanoa, who came off the bench against Ulster on December 20.
Salanoa’s appearance was the second debut of that night and final one of the year with centre Tommy O’Brien also starting on the night.
For O’Brien, it was a case of playing the waiting game after an injury-hit second year in the Academy prevented him from pushing on as he had hoped.
“I guess it is my third year in the Academy and I played just one game last year for Leinster ‘A’ against Munster in January due to injury,” he shared.
“I had shoulder issues and had operations to take care of those. When I got back, I tore my hamstring badly within one week. That was really disappointing. It was the whole year gone.
“All of a sudden, I was in my final year in the Academy and I hadn’t played. It came back to ‘control what I can control’.”
When his debut did come, the centre says there was some luck involved.
“It was just the way it fell. There were a few injuries and I had been training quite well. They just put me straight in,” he said.
“I find it easier to prepare for games earlier in the week when I’m starting. You know you are going to run out with everyone else, not have to wonder whether you will be coming on in the 50th or 60th minute or whether you will be chasing a game or 20 points up.
“I like to prepare for Tuesdays as though they are my match days because that was the biggest day of the week for me, getting reps, showing what I can do.”
Debut caps in 2019/20 season
#1279 Harry Byrne (Benetton, 28 September 2019 – W 32-27) 9
#1280 Michael Milne (Benetton, 28 September 2019 – W 32-27) 8
#1281 Rowan Osborne (Ospreys, 4 October 2019 – W 53-5) 4
#1282 Jack Aungier (Dragons, 1 November 2019 – W 50-15) 5
#1283 Tommy O’Brien (Ulster, 20 December 2019 – W 54-42) 3
#1284 Roman Salanoa (Ulster, 20 December 2019 – W 54-42) 3