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Donnacha Ryan leads the way for Racing against his mates in Munster

The 34-year-old lock was instrumental in Racing’s win in Paris.

Murray Kinsella reports from the U Arena

AFTER HAMMERING INTO them for 80 minutes, Donnacha Ryan headed for the Munster changing room following Racing’s 34-30 win in Paris to catch up with some of his good friends.

[image alt="Donnacha Ryan leaves the field after the game" src="" width="630" height="394" class="alignnone" /end]

The 34-year-old was already wearing Keith Earls’ red jersey, just about squeezing into it.

While the jersey might not have fit, it was fitting that Ryan swapped with 30-year-old Earls, another man who showed that the years have not robbed him of sharpness and quality.

“A few cans of Dutch Gold, I suppose, and take it from there,” Ryan joked with Sky Sports immediately after the game when asked if he would be joining the Munster men for a drink.

Ryan had kept quiet earlier this week, understandably turning down a number of interview requests in the build-up to Racing’s second meeting of the season with Munster, and he certainly did his talking on the pitch to remind everyone in Ireland of his quality.

The biggest moment of all his contributions was, of course, that late restart he retrieved to give Racing a chance to retake a lead that had switched over and back between the teams at an almighty rate in the second half.

[image alt="Donnacha Ryan and Keith Earls swap jerseys after the game" src="" width="630" height="489" class="aligncenter" /end]

The Tipperary man showed his class and work rate in that key period, but he was superb throughout this thrilling contest, getting through a mountain of the dirty work while others carried powerfully.

With the likes of Edwin Maka, Leone Nakarawa and Yannick Nyanga mastering those ball-carrying duties, Ryan was freed up to do the less glamorous locking duties, in which he thrives.

Peter O’Mahony has spoken of how Munster were more reliant on Ryan to get on the ball for close-in carries, but Racing are asking him to do the off-the-ball stuff and the results have been excellent since his recovery from a neck injury.

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That injury prevented the Nenagh man from making a return to the pitch at Thomond Park in October and even though he was present in Limerick that day, one senses he would have enjoyed exchanging blows with his old team-mates this afternoon at the U Arena.

Ryan’s move to France meant he was dropped by Ireland instantly, as is their policy around players based abroad, but even at the age of 34 the 47-times capped remains an energetic and hard-working presence on the pitch.

[image alt="Donnacha Ryan celebrates with Edwin Maka and Leone Nakarawa after the game" src="" width="462" height="500" title="" class="aligncenter" /end]

This is a quality Ryan has always possessed and though we often tend to focus on the more spectacular players, it’s those like Ryan who allow others to flourish.

While the lineout pressure Racing looked to apply didn’t lead to consistent turnovers of possession, Ryan provides strength in that area too.

The French club’s decision not to go after a fourth try and the bonus point in the dying moments was an odd one – coach Laurent Labit said they just wanted to make sure of the victory – but they are still not out of this competition.

A strong win over Leicester next weekend is essential to their hopes of progress into the knock-out stages of the competition and it looks like Ryan will be a key figure as they go chasing the win in Welford Road.

The veteran lock’s performance today simply reminded Munster and their fans of the quality they lost out on when Ryan decided to leave for France.

The42 has just published its first book, Behind The Lines, a collection of some of the year’s best sports stories. Pick up your copy in Eason’s, or order it here today (€10):

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About the author:

Murray Kinsella

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