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Dublin: 9°C Friday 26 February 2021

Donnacha Ryan a difference-maker in Racing's win over Munster

The 34-year-old made his presence felt in typically unfussy fashion in Bordeaux.

Murray Kinsella reports from Stade Chaban Delmas

DONNACHA RYAN SPLIT away from his Racing team-mates as they did their lap of honour following victory over Munster and made his way back towards the stand where the bulk of the province’s travelling support had been sitting.

The reception for the Tipperary man was rousing and it must have felt a little like home for Ryan when one Munster fan threw a sliotar down onto the pitch for him.

Donnacha Ryan with a sliotar that was thrown from the crowd after the game Donnacha Ryan with his gift from a Munster fan. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Scooping it off the Stade Chaban-Delmas turf, Ryan raised the sliotar in acknowledgement of the kind gift and the adulation from the supporters of his old team, before passing on without too much more fuss.

Ryan generally doesn’t tend to make much of a scene, but he is well thought of by his current and former team-mates.

He was soon spotted in conversation with Munster forwards coach Jerry Flannery outside the changing rooms, before venturing in to spend a bit of time with the likes of Peter O’Mahony before Munster headed for the airport and their charter flight home.

Renowned as a good man off the pitch, Ryan is the kind of player that his peers respect on it.

His performance against Munster was typically important, even if it wasn’t glamorous. He competed consistently at lineout time as Racing managed to turn what is usually a strength for Munster into one of several weaknesses.

Ryan only had three carries of the ball but he hammered rucks with aggression to ensure that other players like Virimi Vakatawa and Teddy Thomas could do the damage with ball in hand.

Defensively, Ryan was a giant for Racing, completing all of his 19 tackle attempts and winning some important collisions against the Munster ball-carriers. His dogged work rate never dips and even at the age of 34, he brings infectious energy.

Donnacha Ryan after the game Ryan greets the final whistle in Bordeaux. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

While Racing have reached a Champions Cup final before without him – in 2016, when they lost to Saracens – it’s hard to argue against the suggestion that Ryan has brought a new edge to Laurent Labit and Laurent Travers’ team.

His fiercely competitive streak is evident on the game day, but he has also been important for Racing on the training pitch too.

“Donnacha and all the players want to make sure we evolve and progress,” is how Travers puts it.

“I have great happiness when players come here with such experience. Donnacha showed us he’s so demanding in terms of match preparation and training, this type of player helps the team to progress.”

Assistant coach Chris Masoe, who leads Racing’s defence, was an uncompromising player in his time and surely appreciates the hard-nosed element of Ryan’s play too.

Munster have had a fine second-row pairing in Billy Holland and Jean Kleyn this season, while the addition of Tadhg Beirne will be important this summer, but many fans miss having Ryan in their starting team.

The perception that the IRFU are to blame for Ryan’s departure somehow seems to linger but it was the second row himself who opted for this move, even when offered a Munster contract on similar terms.

Jacky Lorenzetti celebrates with Donnacha Ryan after the game Ryan with Racing president Jacky Lorenzetti. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

Ryan took something of a punt to head for France, saying goodbye to his international career at the same time, but so far things have worked out pretty nicely.

After overcoming the neck injury that kept him out of Racing’s visit to Thomond Park back in October, Ryan has been a key figure for the Top 14 side and now has a record of two/two against his native province.

If Racing are to overcome the tough-looking challenge of Leinster in the European final, we can safely bet that Ryan will play an integral part – quietly but impactfully getting through mountains of hard work once again.

Leinster will be favourites but Racing a real danger with Teddy Thomas and co.

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About the author:

Murray Kinsella

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