x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Byrne laments old pals act

The full-back offered Hook some tips when his friend assumed the No 15 shirt and now he has excelled so well that his place in the Welsh team is not given.

Lee Byrne, centre, hopes he can reclaim the No 15 jersey for Wales when he returns from injury.
Lee Byrne, centre, hopes he can reclaim the No 15 jersey for Wales when he returns from injury.

Lee Byrne is beginning to wish he had never opened his big mouth. When surgery to the long-standing ligament problem in his right foot ruled the 29-year-old Wales full-back out of the series of November internationals, he was immediately on the telephone to his replacement, James Hook. The two are close friends and Byrne was keen to assist when Warren Gatland opted to play Hook, who is more used to playing at fly-half or centre, as the last line of defence.

Hook has excelled in his new role. In fact, he has played too well for some peoples' liking. Byrne may have been arguably Wales' stand-out player for the past two years, but he does not regard his place in the side as a given now. "I wish I never had now because I'm not going to get my place back," he said of the assistance he offered Hook when his Ospreys colleague assumed his No 15 shirt. "James is one of my best friends off the field, I speak to him regularly and when he first moved to full-back I gave him a few tips.

"But he is a class player, he can play anywhere. He doesn't take much teaching because wherever he plays he will do a great job." Byrne is still striving for full fitness following the British & Irish Lions tour of South Africa in the summer, when he quickly embellished his reputation as one of the leading full-backs in the game, only to lose out to injury. "One minute I was there; the next I was gone," he recalled, after being sent home after the first Test, having sustained a dislocated thumb to go along with his long-standing foot problem.

"It is no coincidence that a lot of the injured boys are the ones that went to the Lions. It is mainly down to fatigue. You don't realise it at the time, but it does take its toll. "The tour was going really well for me. I was Man of the Match in the first game, then I was selected for the first Test which was great, then the injury struck. "I think everything happens for a reason, and hopefully I'll find out what that reason is going to be soon."

Wales' loss has at least had a silver lining for schoolchildren in Abu Dhabi. Byrne arrived in the capital for some warm-weather recuperation this week, and was reunited with his former head coach Lyn Jones. Jones, a former Wales flanker, is now the director of rugby at the British School al Khubairat, and drafted in his former charge to help with his side's preparations for next week's Dubai Rugby Sevens.

He hopes to be back playing in time for the Ospreys Heineken Cup pool match with Viadana midway through next month. "I have it sorted now, I had surgery and had been on crutches for eight weeks and I'm really looking forward to it. My aim is the Six Nations." Dwayne Peel, the 71-cap scrum-half, has been reunited with Stephen Jones at half-back for Wales' encounter with the Wallabies tomorrow. @Email:pradley@thenational.ae Wales v Australia, tomorrow, 9.15pm, Showsports 3