Lee Byrne is looking forward to stepping up his return to action after tasting his first competitive rugby in more than two months last weekend.
Out of action since early October with a ligament injury suffered in the Heineken Cup draw with Leicester Tigers, Byrne made his comeback in the Boxing Day win over the Scarlets, coming off the bench for the final half hour. After coming through what proved to be an intense physical encounter, he said that it’s good to be back in action:
“I’ve always said I’m not very good at watching rugby, so I didn’t particularly enjoy sitting in the stand for the first 50 minutes or so. I know that it was an entertaining game but it wasn’t ideal for me, I had butterflies having been out for so long.
“To come back into a game like that was exactly what I needed with the ferocity of the hits going, you can’t beat it. There was no hiding place for anyone out there and that’s what you want when you have been injured. You’ve got to get out there taking the hits to test yourself and, touch wood, I came through half hour at Parc Y Scarlets without any damage.
“As a player, you need to get used to taking hits as soon as you can after an injury. You can train as much as you like with the coaches, work hard on the training paddock, but when you get out there on a match day there’s no feeling like it. You can’t replicate the hard hits of a real, competitive, fixture where you are putting your body on the line for the team.”
As a former Scarlet, Byrne received a predictable welcome from a sell-out crowd at the Parc Y Scarlets, but he says that he enjoyed the atmosphere and is looking forward to a similarly passionate crowd at the Liberty Stadium on New Year’s Day when the Ospreys entertain Cardiff Blues (KO 5.15pm).
“It was what regional rugby is supposed to be all about at Christmas. The atmosphere was great, a full house with both sets of fans making a real racket. Coming out for the warm-up, I got a few boos as I ran to the stands being an ex-Scarlet player, but that’s par for the course in a local derby and it just spurs you on.
“I’m sure there’s going to be a similar atmosphere at the Liberty Stadium on New Year’s Day for the Blues game. We had great support down at the Scarlets, they really made themselves heard despite it being an away game, and we want them to make a similar noise this week, it really does help lift the team to hear the fans. It’s going to be a difficult game, the Blues are a really good side and they did really well in the second half of the Dragons game on Sunday. We’ll need to be in top form, as players on the pitch, and the supporters off it, as Ospreys we’ll all have to rise to the challenge this weekend.”
After the Christmas fixtures, the Ospreys face a difficult trip to Ulster next weekend, before attention turns to Europe and the final two rounds in Pool 3, against Clermont Auvergne away (Sat 16th Jan) and Leicester Tigers at the Liberty Stadium (Sat 23rd Jan). It’s an imposing schedule, but one that Byrne says he is excited about being a part of:
“January is a massive month for us, there’s no two ways about it. With the Blues to kick the month off, and then a really tough one in Ulster next week, who don’t lose many at Ravenhill, before two huge Heineken Cup games, this is what it’s all about. Being out for the last couple of months and having to watch the boys, you realise how well the team has done throughout December and I want to be a part of that during this big month.
“The first challenge is to get a regular place in the starting fifteen again. Gareth Owen has been playing really well, and Barry Davies won’t be far away, so it’s not straightforward. The competition for places is great, and can only drive us all forward over the next few weeks for these big games. It’s a really exciting prospect, we are all looking forward to these games as a squad. We are building game by game, we’ve put together some good results in December, but we realise that we’ve won nothing and we need to continue working hard, keep on improving, putting the effort in, and hopefully, we’ll get out rewards.”