Belfast Telegraph

It looks bad but I didn't take dive, says under-fire Beirne

High hopes: Munster's Tadhg Beirne has his sights set on place in European Champions Cup final
High hopes: Munster's Tadhg Beirne has his sights set on place in European Champions Cup final

By Ruaidhri O'Connor

Saturday, March 30 was all going to plan for Tadhg Beirne. Having played a key role in a tight European quarter-final win, he and his Munster team-mates lingered on the pitch to savour a magic moment before repairing to the dressing room.

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Then he turned on his phone. Unbeknownst to the second-row, his name was being taken in vain on television and the reaction was stronger online.

In the 70th minute, Edinburgh were going through the phases in Munster's half when their prop Pierre Schoeman stepped into Beirne's path and sent him flying.

After reviewing the incident, referee Pascal Gauzere reversed a penalty in Munster's favour and they scored the winning try from the resultant lineout.

The nature of the Kildare native's reaction was the touch-paper for a debate that lasted a week as Richard Cockerill accused him of diving and undermining the game's values, and the podcasts, radio shows and midweek TV review shows chewed over what many perceived as a theatrical fall.

On social media, the Munster fans stood up for their man.

All the while, the man in question's phone kept buzzing and he opted against a public statement.

"It's a bit frustrating. I can see where everyone is coming from when I look at it, it doesn't look particularly good. It looks a bit flamboyant," he said.

"But from my perspective it was essentially being blindsided by a bloke who is essentially 20kg heavier than me. I was off balance and I was going down, then 'Jez' (Jeremy Loughman) catches me from behind and I landed awkwardly and that's why I ended up staying down.

"It got a lot more media coverage than you'd expect. It was a penalty and a talking point for everyone - I certainly got enough abuse on Twitter about it.

"I debated whether to say something about it, but I knew myself I didn't dive as everyone was saying and I am not one to go down easily.

"There is a reason I stayed down, I landed awkwardly and got a bit winded. It didn't even cross my mind (at the time), I didn't think about it.

"I got back to the hotel and I'd a few personal messages on Twitter - 'Cheat!', 'Diver!', that kind of stuff.

"The first time I saw (the clip) I said, 'It's blatant I got hit there', but the more you slow it down it does look like I go down easily.

"What most people didn't see was I was hit from behind by Jez as well and that made it worse."

Although he understands the furore, it didn't make it any more pleasant.

"This is the first time I've been on the other side of it in terms of getting a lot of abuse, being called a cheat," Beirne explained.

"At the start, because I knew what had happened, I didn't take it to heart but when it kept going it got to a point where I wondered if I should say something.

"It was getting a bit ridiculous how much traction it was getting, especially when you've the likes of Brian O'Driscoll commenting.

"Every day, someone with a profile was saying something about it and that would bring more people to tag you.

"Eventually you have to turn a blind eye to it and let it blow over.

"It's easy to judge people for certain things and say it's terrible gamesmanship, but until you're in that situation you can't really say."

Whatever, it certainly shouldn't define Beirne's first season in red as he has arrived from the Scarlets and continued his excellent work.

The top breakdown turnover specialist in the Champions Cup, the Eadestown man has played a central role in getting the team back to another semi-final.

He calls Munster's lineout and contributes to their defensive and ball-carrying games. If they are to take the next step against Saracens today, he'll be key.

"The lineout has improved as the months have gone on," he said of his first season back in Ireland.

"I'm confident in that area, it's only grown my game. I've been given a little bit of freedom as well here defensively and that, I've been able to chase some balls and get some turnovers which is nice.

"I'm happy with how the year has gone, I've had ups and downs through the season. Hopefully I can finish on a high."

Central to his game is his ability to get into the poach position and resist the flurry of bodies trying to shift him.

Dan Leavy is the latest player to suffer a horrendous knee injury attempting a jackal. Beirne may be one of the finest exponents of the art, but he concedes to feeling vulnerable when he latches on.

He argues that referees could offer more protection.

"It's more frustrating than anything," he said.

"That is one of those things that is not reffed as well as it used to be - players coming in from the side.

"So, from a jackalling point of view, that's not ideal.

"It's definitely something you'd be concerned about if it continues to creep in.

"Referees have different views on the poach. Some expect you to be on the ball for five or six seconds, others are happy for you to be on the ball and once you've shown that you've made an attempt and they have held onto the ball then it should be a penalty.

"The longer you've to stay in there the more dangerous it is. It's a pretty vulnerable position and it's very frustrating if you're on the ball for quite a long time and you're not getting anything - especially when you feel the first, second and even the third hit and you still haven't been rewarded."

Beirne's move to Munster was driven in large part by a desire to play for Ireland. He made a big impact off the bench in the series decider against Australia in June, but his involvement has been limited this season.

In November, he played in the two lower-profile games and an ill-timed injury against Exeter Chiefs derailed his Six Nations.

When he got back fit, he wasn't picked for wins over Italy and France but started the loss to Wales.

"Ideally," he said when asked if he'd wanted more. "I worked pretty hard to be in contention for the Italy and France games and was bitterly disappointed.

"Through injury I ended up getting a chance against Wales, but on a personal level it didn't go particularly well. I hadn't probably trained particularly well for the two weeks leading up to it.

"So, my confidence wasn't where I would have liked it to be going into that game - nothing to do with the team.

"And then the game ended up not going particularly well, so from that point of view the Six Nations didn't go particularly well for me and that's pretty frustrating going into such a big couple of months now once the World Cup comes around.

"Hopefully I'll be able to amend my last couple of weeks in Ireland camp."

Today's game against a highly-fancied Saracens side is the kind of window where the watching international coaches will be keeping a close eye.

"I feel like I'm back fully fit," Beirne enthused.

"That's something I can take confidence from.

"I'm quite excited about the next couple of weeks now and putting in a good performance and helping Munster, hopefully, to a European final."

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