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I could have made Wales switch but I'm glad I'm fulfilling dream in green jersey, says Beirne

Playing catch-up: Tadhg Beirne returned to Ireland midway
Playing catch-up: Tadhg Beirne returned to Ireland midway

By Ruaidhri O'Connor

In another world, Tadhg Beirne could be here in Japan representing Wales and not Ireland.

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One more season with the Scarlets would have seen the Kildare native qualify for Wales, based on World Rugby's three-year residency rule.

It's not impossible to imagine that scenario unfolding, but such was his outstanding form for the Welsh club it always seemed like a matter of time before he returned to Ireland.

Doing so midway through a World Cup cycle meant that he was facing an uphill battle to force his way into the reckoning and then, when you consider that he had never been capped, Beirne had a lot of ground to make up in a short space of time.

He managed to do so, however, and Wales' loss has certainly been Ireland's gain as he adds a versatile and dynamic option to the pack.

When Beirne was released from Leinster in 2016, which left him scrambling for a new club, the Scarlets not only offered his career a lifeline but also a chance to put himself in the running to play at this World Cup.

"Thinking that far back, the dream was to play for Ireland and ultimately get here," Beirne reflected. "It was all worth it in the end. If I was still in Wales, who knows, I could have ended up being here if Warren Gatland had picked me.

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"But my goal was to play for my own country and that's why I came back.

"When the Scarlets came to me, they said that, and things can change in a year - who knows where I could have been?"

AJ MacGinty is one of four Irish players included in USA's World Cup squad, while Shane O'Leary and Peter Nelson will line out for Canada in Japan.

Beirne's path nearly led him to wearing another red jersey in Wales, but instead he returned to Ireland and wore Munster's red.

After an impressive first season, the 27-year-old has become a vital part of the Munster team, where, just as he was with the Scarlets, he is often given a free role by Johann van Graan.

The international set-up under Joe Schmidt is very different, however, which has been a challenge, as Beirne explained: "With Munster I go out of the system a bit at times and you might see me wandering behind a few players looking to attack some rucks.

"I've spoken to Johann and JP (Ferreira) about doing that. They're more than happy for me to do it because sometimes it can be successful.

"Coming into international rugby, it's another step up and teams are a bit more consistent around the ruck area, so it can be a lot harder to steal the ball, and if I'm going out of that system at all, it could lead to a try.

"It can more than likely cost a game so it's very important to stay within the system defensively and not chase rucks.

"A sign of any good player is being able to fit into any system. I'm trying to fit into a system here and I think I'm doing alright so far."

Beirne sat down with Schmidt at the start of the summer and the Ireland head coach explained that, even though he was happy with how he played in the second-row with Munster, he wanted to get him game time in the back-row, which he duly did during pre-season.

"Defensively, you are probably a bit more vulnerable at times because you tend to push the tight-five inside you and you could be up against a back and be covering a bit more space," he added.

"From that perspective, it's probably a little bit more difficult but, otherwise, I am pretty comfortable in both positions."

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