Tadhg Beirne on his 'incredible' Scarlets journey
When Tadhg Beirne leaves the Scarlets for his homeland this summer it will be a bittersweet moment for both player and club.
The 26-year-old second row will trade Llanelli for Limerick after signing a two year deal with Munster, but there is the small matter of defending a league title first.
It is back home where the Kildare native hopes to impress Ireland manager Joe Schmidt and win his first senior international cap, something many would argue is well overdue.
Beirne graduated through the Leinster Academy, but could only muster a handful of brief appearances from the bench for the senior side.
He took to delivering pizza to support himself and such was his frustration he even contemplated leaving the game altogether to focus on his university degree.
Career kick start
Beirne was released by the Irish province at the end of the 2015-16 season, a time when Leinster’s talent pool was rich and he had suffered with injuries.
Luckily for Scarlets, head coach Wayne Pivac had a versatile lock on his summer shopping list.
The New Zealander saw a rough diamond in footage of Beirne, and over the past two seasons helped mould him into one of Europe’s finest forwards.
Although Beirne admitted to finding Llanelli something of a culture shock, the move across the Irish sea proved to be career defining.
He made his debut against Munster and went on to play a pivotal role in Scarlets’ Pro12 championship winning season.
Revenge for Beirne could not have come much sweeter when they lined up against his former side in Dublin for the semi-final.
Despite going into the match as underdogs, they romped to victory to set up the final with Munster at the Aviva Stadium.
Beirne scored one of the Welsh regions’ five tries as they secured their first league title since 2004.
Day of the Jackaler
Beirne’s second season with the Scarlets saw him transfer his league form onto the European stage.
His monumental work rate and prowess over the ball played a crucial role in the Scarlets progressing to the European Champions Cup quarter-finals for the first time since 2007.
Arguably his most impressive performance came against Bath when his 6ft 6in frame side-stepped England full-back Anthony Watson to finish off a team try at the Recreation Ground.
Such displays led to him being nominated as European Player of the Year in January.
Scarlets saw off La Rochelle in style to set up a semi-final against Leinster in Dublin, but this time it was the Irish province who gave a lesson in rugby. Beirne did however score a consolation try for Scarlets.
His final home game was the Pro14 quarter-final victory over Cheetahs.
He was given a rapturous standing ovation as he left the field at Parc y Scarlets, a send off he described as “incredibly touching”.
“It was one of those moments that you try and savour and I probably walked off a little bit slower just to take it all in because the support I’ve received over here from the fans has been phenomenal,” Beirne said.
“It’s pretty special and a little bit sad too because it’s my last game here.
“The fans are something special, I haven’t come across it before. When you play here it can be deafening at times.
“It’s been an incredible journey for me and I’ve enjoyed every moment of it, and I’m going to be sad to leave.
“I’ve learned a lot about myself, learned so much about rugby and I think I’ve definitely become a better player since I came here, and that’s a credit to the coaches, all the staff and especially the boys I get to play alongside every game.
“It’s been a pleasure and I’m definitely going to miss it.”
Opportunity for revenge
Scarlets travel to the Scotstoun Stadium on Friday to take on Glasgow in the Pro14 semi-final, and should they progress will meet either Leinster or Munster in Dublin on 26 May.
“We played Glasgow here but it’s a different story when you play against teams in their own backyard with their own fans,” said Beirne.
“We have a massive record here and we’re very proud of that, and they’ll be pretty proud of getting to play in their backyard, but we did it against Leinster last year so there’s no reason why we can’t do it again.
“Obviously for us after that semi-final in Europe, to get through Glasgow and have another crack at Leinster potentially gives us that little bit of extra drive.
Beirne was offered a contract extension by the Scarlets, but his decision to turn it down and return to Ireland was influenced by his burning desire for international honours.
He featured in all of Ireland’s games during the 2012 Under-20 Six Nations and Junior World Championship, but has yet to win a senior cap, partly due to playing outside of Ireland.
“Ireland’s always in the back of my mind, that’s why I’ve had to leave this place,” he said.
The 2018 Six Nations Grand Slam champions tour Australia next month in the first ever three-Test series played between the teams.
“If I get on the tour I’d still be regarded as a Scarlets player which I take quite a bit of pride in because my contract here doesn’t end until the end of June,” Beirne said.
“But if I don’t, there will be plenty of more opportunities when I do go back home and they won’t be able to use that excuse anymore, they’ll just have to tell me I’m not good enough.”