Tadhg Beirne nearly quit rugby two years ago, now he’s been called up by Ireland. He talks through his incredible journey
The remarkable story of Tadhg Beirne
MAY 2016: Tadhg Beirne was contemplating hanging up his boots. Leinster weren’t going to offer him a new contract and he was thinking of drawing a line under his rugby career to focus on his masters degree in real estate.
May 2018: Tadhg Beirne is picked in the Ireland squad for the three-Test series against Australia and has signed for Munster having been a standout performer for the Scarlets in recent seasons.
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So the lock is hugely grateful to Wayne Pivac for taking a punt on him two years ago. “It was a shot in the dark from Wayne and I didn’t really know what they were expecting from me,” says the 26-year-old. “I hardly had any senior experience – I had four caps for Leinster off the bench – and it was a risk for him.”
A few months ago, Beirne had to take a risk with his decision to join Munster. Joe Schmidt encouraged Beirne to return across the Irish Sea, so he could be considered for Ireland, but it will be tough to leave the Scarlets.
“It was a really difficult decision,” Beirne says. “I’m really enjoying myself over here at the minute; I’m starting a lot of games and playing a lot of rugby. The brand the Scarlets play has always been attacking. It took a while to get my skills up to scratch, but the way they attack and defend suits me.
“Towards the end of last season there were a lot of questions about playing internationally and realistically I’d never get selected while in Wales. It was a big decision, whether to take the risk and see if I’m good enough or not. I might go over and it turns out the coach doesn’t like my style of play and I’m not playing at all.
“I did get a phone call from Joe and the conversation was that he’d been watching me and was hoping I would come back across the water. He didn’t say when I go back I’d be selected – that’s up to me to play. It helped me to make my decision. He obviously wants players to play in Ireland to give him more options. And I’m backing myself.”
Beirne has thrived in the Scarlets environment, becoming an integral member of their Guinness Pro12-winning squad last season and starting this campaign in fine form, even when filling the unfamiliar No 8 shirt.
“I felt out of my comfort zone at times. It’s learning a new role. I played against Toulon at eight and picked up a yellow card at the end of the game. Looking back, if that was John Barclay at eight, he wouldn’t have got yellow-carded; he’d have been switched on to retreat ten yards. It’s something I wasn’t used to and there are small things to pick up.”
It’s his jackling ability that stands out the most; he began the season with 17 turnovers in eight league games – more than twice as many as any other player. So how does someone 6ft 6in tall manage to get over the ball so often?
“Growing up some kids are a little more scared to do it, but I enjoyed doing it and you just get better the more you’re doing it.
“At Leinster there was more emphasis on other things – chop tackles and not overcommitting to rucks – whereas here there is a lot more freedom in the way we defend and I have a bit more licence to go after the ball and make decisions at the ruck. It’s suited me. Being tall, you need to have your technique pretty spot-on and it’s getting better. Sometimes I get it right and sometimes not.”
While the next stage of his career is mapped out in the red of Munster, he’s still hoping to bow out with more success in the red of Scarlets – they face Leinster in the 2018 Guinness Pro14 final. Then it’s off to Oz with the prospect of winning his first Ireland cap.
The masters in real estate will be put off for a while longer as Beirne continues to build his rugby career. Who knows what achievements will be beside his name come May 2020…
This article originally appeared in the January 2018 issue of Rugby World magazine. Follow Rugby World on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.