The Drua finished seventh in the regular season with an imperious 41-17 defeat of the Queensland Reds in Suva on Saturday, setting up a daunting knockout match against the Canterbury Crusaders.
Byrne acknowledged it would take something special in Christchurch on Saturday to upset a Crusaders team chasing a seventh-successive title.
He preferred to reflect on how far his team had come in just their second season in the competition, having won only two games in their maiden campaign.
For Byrne, their progress eclipses winning two World Cup medals as a skills coach with the All Blacks of 2011 and 2015, along with his VFL premiership grand final win as a player with Australian Rules Football club Hawthorn in 1983.
“It’s definitely a highlight, if not the highlight, because I’ve been fortunate to be involved with very experienced teams with legendary players,” Byrne told journalists.
“And then you’re with these guys here who come from such a low base and work so hard to get there.
“It’s massively satisfying when you sit back and see how much work these guys do. That’s a highlight — where we were 18 months ago to where we are today.”
Byrne said the Drua’s six-try performance against the Reds was their best of the season because his players finally shook off the shackles — something he hopes will repeat against the Crusaders.
He said scoring 24 unanswered points in the second half was attributable to a simple message at the interval, to play with freedom.
“These guys hold themselves back sometimes and I know that sounds ridiculous because everyone says ‘these guys, they play loose’,” he said.
“But they do hold themselves back, either because they respect the opposition or don’t have the confidence to just go out there and express themselves.”
Byrne added that they had no concerns if Christchurch turns out a cold, damp night for the quarter-final.
“When non-Fijians see Fiji, they think about the islands, they think about the sun and they see all those adverts,” he said.
“But when you’re living here like these young men have, you’re playing in mud for four months of the year and they just love it.
“Whatever the weather is, we’ll be right.”
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