Lion looking good

Lions full back Lee Byrne believes he's become a better play since his move to France. [more]

Lion looking good

Lions full back Lee Byrne believes he’s become a better play since his move to France.

Byrne left the Ospreys for Clermont Auvergne in the summer and appears to be finding the form that made him a nailed-on certainty for the last Lions trip to South Africa.

The 31-year-old was in sensational shape when the Lions prepared to take on the Springboks but has struggled to hit those heights ever since he limped out of the tour after the first Test.

Byrne lost his Wales place to James Hook and then Leigh Halfpenny at the recent World Cup but his performances for Clermont suggest he will be in the mix for selection for the RBS 6 Nations.

“I feel like my confidence is growing every week,” said Byrne, who impressed in Clermont’s back-to-back Heineken Cup ties with Leicester Tigers.

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“I’m learning to play with the likes of Sitiveni Sivivatu and Julien Malzieu. That takes time but it’s starting to come together slowly.

“Forwards love someone at the back who’s nice and solid so I’m looking to get my bread and butter right and then sneak over for a try now and then.

“I want to concentrate on taking high balls, putting the team on the front foot and everything else will take care of itself.

“I’ve always said I’d love to be involved in the Six Nations. I love playing for my country and I’m certainly available and I’ll hopefully be putting my hand up for selection.

“I’d love to be involved but that’s out of my hands. There’s nothing to stop me (with regards to player release) – I’ve not heard anything like that – so all I can do is keep my fingers crossed.”

Byrne was one of three high-profile Welsh Lions to swap the Rabo Direct PRO12 for the Top 14 this summer, with Mike Phillips joining Bayonne and Hook heading to Perpignan.

Hook now looks likely to be joined by Wales second row Luke Charteris at the Stade Aime Giral, while Lions front rowers Adam Jones and Gethin Jenkins are also being heavily linked with a move across the Channel.

But despite the potential of a mass exodus of the country’s top talent, Byrne believes Welsh rugby fans shouldn’t be unduly worried by the growing trend.

“It’s Luke’s decision but at this stage in his career it’s certainly not going to do his rugby any harm,” was Byrne’s assessment of Charteris’ likely move to France.

“Coming to France was a fresh start for me, I’m enjoying it and I’m sure Luke will do the same wherever he goes.

“You’re testing yourself against the best players, week in week out. There are a lot of foreigners from the southern hemisphere too. The crowds are another factor as well. The Stade Marcel Michelin (Clermont’s home ground) is an unbelievable atmosphere – it’s like you’re playing an international every week.
“It’s a difficult one for Welsh rugby: players like Gethin are world-class and lots of teams are going to be looking at them.

“They’re not necessarily going to do their international chances any harm because they’ll be playing in a solid league – one of the best in the world. As long as you’re staying in the shop window, in competitions like the Heineken Cup, it can only better you as a player.”

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