Ireland face Scotland tomorrow with a solitary win to their name in this year's Six Nations and while positives have been few and far between, the excellence of Tadhg Beirne will be one of the most pleasing gains when Andy Farrell looks back on the campaign.
The graduated return of preferred starter Iain Henderson meant Beirne got the nod to lock down beside James Ryan for the Wales game and hasn’t looked back since.
He retained that spot in the first XV against France and then moved to the blindside flank against Italy when Ryan returned from a head injury.
Something of a slow-burner in representative terms, the Kildare man has racked up 20 caps since making his debut against Australia in the summer of 2018.
The 29-year-old has been featuring heavily in the Six Nations charts since the start of this season’s tournament.
Forget about the unseen work that many forwards get credited for, Beirne has been noticeable by his sheer industry around the park.
He has arrived at most rucks of any player (117) and has hit most rucks in attack (87) and defence (30); he is second to Charles Ollivon (13) in lineouts won with nine.
Previously, the perceived wisdom was that a 'utility’ player like Beirne would ultimately lose out on tight selection calls, the reasoning being that a failure to specialise would be seen as a weakness.
The new interpretation around rucks now makes a man with Beirne’s skill a particularly valuable asset.
"He’s great now at picking the right time and picking those opportunities to have a crack at the ruck," says Paul O’Connell.
"He’s one of the best I’ve ever seen at that. His maul defence is incredible. His ability to get through seams and gaps and joints and collapse mauls and get access to the ball is excellent."
No surprise then that the Munster forward has also won the most turnovers (5) in this year’s competition.
Beirne struggled to make a breakthrough at Leinster and left for Scarlets after just four appearances for the then-three-time Champions Cup winners in 2016.
It was with the Welsh region where he came to prominence, winning the Guinness Pro12 in 2017 and scoring a try in the final against Munster.
The following season Beirne was named the Pro14’s Players’ Player of the Season. A move to Munster and a chance to play for Ireland followed.
"He’s been incredible since he’s come back from the Scarlets," adds O’Connell, who as new Ireland forwards coach has been getting a close-up view of his skills.
"He was brilliant over there. He developed a certain way of playing. He’s got great footwork, he’s an excellent ball-carrier.
"He’s a very smart rugby player. He may not run over people but he runs great lines, which allows him to get through gaps.
"His ruck pressure was incredible. At the Scarlets he seemed to spend the whole day looking for poaches, which they were very happy for him to do. He’s [probably had to tweak that a little bit, stay in the defensive line a little more.
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"I’ve enjoyed watching him and I’ve enjoyed his development since he’s come to Munster. They’ve obviously asked him to change.
"His instinct is to get behind the defensive line and go for poaches. They’ve asked him to tweak that a little bit, while not losing what is a big strength of his.
"He’s been very impressive and his ability to go from second row to 6 is a big asset for any team as well."
Beirne, who scored Ireland’s only try in the defeat to Wales, weighs in at 16st 7lbs and stands just over 6’ 4". Not big, in other words, for a modern international forward.
"He’s a very laid-back character," says O’Connell.
"When you chat to him it’s hard to believe sometimes, he’s a professional rugby player. He’s very smart, he knows his stuff and he does his work.
"When you chat to him his delivery is very droll but it’s been great to see. He’s been a brilliant signing for Munster."
Farrell is loathe to single out individuals and whenever players’ names are put to the head coach, he quickly refers to the collective.
Twice yesterday, Beirne was named-checked by reporters and true to form, the English man preferred to talk about the group.
"It is nice when you have the variation within your pack to do so but in any game plan, any given opposition you are playing against, it is nice to have those options and variations," he said as he announced three changes to his side.
"If you look at our pack it is quite dynamic, mobile, aggressive, it is big as well, so we are quite happy with that."
Caelan Doris is injured and Peter O’Mahony is suspended, while fellow back row contenders Rhys Ruddock, Josh van der Flier and Jack Conan will push their own claims but Beirne cannot have done much more to ensure Farrell finds a spot for him from here on in.
Follow Scotland v Ireland (kick-off 3pm, Sunday) via our live blog on RTE.ie and the RTÉ News app or listen live on RTÉ Radio 1's Sunday Sport. Highlights on Against the Head on RTÉ2 and RTÉ Player, 8pm Monday.