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Ireland impact sub Ryan Baird on Italian Job: ‘I said when I got my chance, I’m going to f**king take it’

Leinster man determined to play a big role in Grand Slam tilt

Ryan Baird make quite an impact after being sprung from the bench against Italy in Rome. Photo: Seb Daly/Sportsfile© SPORTSFILE


As impacts off the bench go, Ryan Baird delivered in spades against Italy last weekend.

In the days leading up to the trip to Rome, Baird spoke about his disappointment at being left out of Ireland’s opening wins over Wales and France, but he channelled that frustration in the right manner by producing an all-action display that puts him in contention to keep his place in the match-day 23 for the Scotland game on Sunday week.

Even before Baird was introduced for Iain Henderson in the 52nd minute at Stadio Olimpico, you could sense his eagerness to get involved.

As Finlay Bealham made his way to the changing room after being forced off injured, the TV camera picked up Baird, who was sitting on the bench going through clips on the laptop alongside one of the video analysts

Baird is a real student of the game and as he looks to force his way into Andy Farrell’s plans on a more regular basis, he understands the need to have all bases covered.

So, when he was called upon at what was a crucial stage of the game, with Italy trailing by just seven points, he knew there was pressure on him to make his presence felt.

A huge breakdown turnover, which allowed Ross Byrne to kick a penalty, a key lineout steal at a stage when Italy were threatening to mount a late comeback and a huge amount of energy on both sides of the ball made for a very effective 28-minute cameo.

​“My focus was just to be present out there, play what was in front of me. Use my strengths, lineouts and just playing off the lads,” Baird said. “Great tackle and I saw the ball, and I thought, ‘F**k it, I’ll dive on it’. I was just out there playing whatever was in front of me.

“A lot of the work is done in the middle of the week; I put on my sheet just ‘Trust’. I went out and just trusted it. I didn’t think much out there, to be honest. I visualised a lot of it during the week.

“It was tough for the first two games not playing, so I said when I got my chance, I’m going to f**king take it. I felt I played well, I knew the system when I came on; I tried to give the boys a boost; I’d fresh legs; try and just bring a bit of energy into the team. Yeah, it was great.”

Tadhg Beirne’s injury has opened up a spot in the team and while that is still expected to be filled by Henderson, who wasn’t at his best in Rome, Baird could be an explosive option off the bench for Murrayfield.

The 23-year-old is ambitious enough to believe that he justifies a starting spot, particularly as he has been in Leinster’s first-choice back-row for the big European games this season. Yet, Peter O’Mahony, Josh van der Flier and Caelan Doris are a well-matched unit.

As he has done in the past, Baird was used in the second-row in the win over Italy, and while Jack Conan may be feeling the pressure for his place in the match-day squad, it could be that both Conan and Baird find themselves among the replacements against Scotland.

In Farrell’s mind, having two such quality subs will add to Ireland’s chances of staying on track to win the Grand Slam.

“Position-wise, I wouldn’t put too much on it; for me, it’s being on the pitch that is the most important thing. I wouldn’t find too much of a difference there,” Baird maintained. “But, definitely, playing consistently with Leinster this season has allowed me to test myself. It has allowed me to push myself further than I would have last season.

“I’ve found out things about myself, which has been great: the mentality behind playing; what it takes to turn up every week and come out high-performing at a consistent level. That’s my objective. I was itching to get a go in this tournament, to stay positive, to use training for these moments.

“You find out how you need to respond. Particularly against Racing, I got a big hit in the first half, got a dead leg. I said to myself, I either quit now or I just keep playing; you’ve just got to dig in; that’s when I decided I had to go on.

“That’s what you learn. Just play for the team, do all the dirty work because that is 99 per cent of the game, not the flash stuff, 99pc of the graft; I had to dig deep and do that.”

After playing his part in seeing out the win at Stadio Olimpico, Baird is now determined to be involved in Ireland’s remaining two Six Nations games against Scotland and England.

“Walking around after, it was just beautiful seeing everyone celebrate; you can see how much it means to individuals out there,” Baird added.

“I saw my dad and my two brothers; it’s very special. I made my debut there two years ago, so it will always be a special ground to come back to. But to do it in front of my family was particularly special.”

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