Retiring Byrne part of a star 'fab four' who wowed world; Rugby editor Delme Parfitt tells the story of Welsh rugby's former popstars as one of the Fab Four Lee Byrne hangs up his boots.
Byrne, Shane Williams, Mike Phillips, James Hook...they were the John, Paul, George and Ringo of the old Galactico days, when a quartet of pals happened to be wowing audiences in Ospreys, Wales and Lions colours.
Each had the box office appeal, each had the raw talent, each, in their own way, had the pop star looks. And so they were happy to form their own little band, happy to share the tongue in cheek Twitter hashtag that christened them Welsh rugby's Beatles. But, as a largely broken-hearted music world discovered in 1970, all things must pass, and now just two are left standing. For Mike and James, the band plays on.
Shane? His long and winding road finally ended a few months back after his Japanese dallaince (more Fab Four symmetry there) with Mitsubishi Dynaboars.
Yet for Glanamman's finest the send-off that will stand the test of time was amid suitable hysteria, when he bade farewell in a Welsh jersey against the Aussies in 2011.
You can make up your own mind which of these greats of our game corresponds to which of Liverpool's finest pop creation, but Byrne should by no means be relegated to backing vocals.
He goes in inauspicious circumstances, a shoulder injury having curtailed involvement in his first season with the Dragons since October and prevented him from being a part of the region's encouraging end of term revival, albeit one that is now tinged with the disappointment of a European Challenge Cup semi-final drubbing against Edinburgh.
These last nine months or so were supposed to see Byrne, with all his experience, return from his spell in French rugby with Clermont Auvergne and be at the fulcrum of a Rodney Parade revival.
He should have had at least another season after this one in him, possibly two. Byrne deserved better. At his zenith, for 18 months across 2008 and 2009, he was arguably the best full-back in the world.
Byrne was just sensational under the high ball, reliable in defence, offered a siege gun left boot and was adept at knowing when to join the back-line in attack, timing his forays to perfection and running the most sumptuous angles.
His reward was a Lions Test cap against South Africa six years ago, but while he enjoyed himself as part of a fine Clermont side if Byrne has one regret it could be that his career was bookended by frustration.
The former Scarlets man was a relative latecomer to the big time, not making his international debut until he was 25 against New Zealand in November 2005.
Then, after injury stymied him post-Lions, and after the extraordinary and rapid emergence of Leigh Halfpenny, Byrne's Test odyssey came to an end more prematurely than most would have forecast.
He played against Fiji and Namibia at the 2011 World Cup, but since then nothing.
A campaigner as seasoned as Byrne would have acknowleged Halfpenny's soaring status, but all the same being passed over by Wales during some fine years with Clermont annoyed him, and he made as much clear on Twitter on at least one occasion.
And yet as Byrne contemplates the end - which is likely to mark a new beginning in coaching, possibly with the Dragons - he can console himself with having ticked an awful lot of rugby's most prestigious boxes, the ones marked Grand Slam and Lions Test cap for a start.
He should reflect with pride, and know that he is also not the first, and will be be far from the last, former world beater to see his playing story conclude in rather obscure circumstances.
It makes you wonder what kind of swansong awaits Mike and James in the upcoming years, with the scrum-half already having had to step aside for emerging poster boy Rhys Webb and the No.10 seeming set to see out his on-field days at club level.
Whatever happens, the Fab Four have now been reduced to two.
But don't worry, they'll get by, with a little help...
Shane<BWilliams celebrates a try for Ospreys with his team-mates Lee Byrne and James Hook back in 2008
Mike Phillips,Lee Byrne and James Hook savour the moment of Wales winning the Triple Crown in 2008
|Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback|
|Publication:||Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)|
|Date:||Apr 24, 2015|
|Previous Article:||Everything to play for - Howley; Derby is perfect platform - Howley.|
|Next Article:||Susanna Wesley the more likely witch.|