LOOSE head prop Jake Byrne is writing his own piece of club history as the first member of Coventry’s development squad to step up and play for the senior side.
The Leamington-born 20-year-old has made two replacement appearances so far, and – on the bench at Blaydon last weekend – can expect more game time before the end of the season with Andy Brown now out of the running through injury.
It all adds up to an exciting time for Byrne who has been playing rugby since he was six-years-old, going through the mini and junior age groups at Old Leamingtonians.
He was in the Warwick School squad that reached the final of the NatWest Schools Under-18 Cup final in 2014, losing to Dulwich College, while also playing for Northampton Saints Under-18s and spending two years in their Junior Academy.
“That was really good,” said Byrne. “In my first year we beat Exeter in the final of the Under-18 Premiership, and then in the second year we got to the final again but just lost to Saracens.
“I then joined Ulster Academy and was there for a year. I played for Ireland Under-18s and they picked me up from that, and then I was part of the Ireland Under-20s bigger squad but I got concussed and missed out on the Six Nations.
“When I moved back home my Academy manager at Saints put me in contact with Rowland Winter and he offered me a place on the development squad at Cov.
“I knew I wanted to stay at home where I’d be settled, I just thought I would give it a go, and it’s worked out really well. It was definitely a good move.”
Byrne spent the first part of the season on loan at Broadstreet before called back by Cov in November.
“That was really good, just to play men’s rugby, and it went well,” he said.
“Then I was called back and I made my debut against Cambridge after we had played a Nighthawks game the Wednesday before. They put me on the bench because Matt Price was injured and I played the last 20 minutes.
“It was amazing, especially because it was at the Butts.
“I came on in the game at Fylde last month, and although I didn’t get on at Blaydon last week I was just happy to be part of the squad that beat them up there for the first time.
“I’ve just got to bide my time – being mentored by Boris Stankovich and learning from him is awesome.
“He’s a very good coach, and he’s taught me so much about my scrummaging technique and what I need to do as a loose head prop.
“I know I’m only young in comparison to the rest of the props at Cov and I just need to learn from them in training, keep my head down and work hard.
“But with what’s happening at the moment – it’s horrible for Andy Brown and, obviously, I don’t wish that on anyone – it’s a huge opportunity for me to get some more game time and experience before the end of the season.”
Byrne, whose father is a former captain of Old Warwickians, can also look ahead to next season with optimism as one of the development players whose performances have earned them promotion to the senior squad.
“Rowland has offered me a first-team contract for next season which I’m really happy about,” he said.
“I just want to keep improving and moving on up. I want to play at the highest level that I can.
“All I ever wanted to do was play professional rugby, and I think it’s up to me to take the opportunity I’ve got now.
“It’s going to be a huge year for me.”