Ryan's latest head injury the big concern as Ireland consider changes to XV

The second row has been sidelined by blows to the head on several occasions recently.

Image: James Crombie/INPHO

Updated Mar 14th 2022, 8:23 AM

THERE WAS ONLY one option for Mathieu Raynal when the replays of Charlie Ewels’ head-to-head tackle on James Ryan flashed up on the big screen.

The red card was as clear as day after Ewels smashed dangerously into Ryan’s face without any mitigation, the collision seeing the Ireland lock crumple straight to the ground and then look very wobbly as he got back to his feet shortly after.

It was the latest head injury for Ryan in a rather worrying string of them. 

The 25-year-old suffered a head injury in Ireland’s 2021 Six Nations opener against Wales, then another in the Round 4 clash with Scotland in the same championship. Ryan subsequently had several weeks out of action as Leinster treated his return to play with caution. 

In November, Ryan was forced off during Ireland’s win over Argentina due to a head injury and had another few weeks on the sidelines during a period in which World Rugby protocols involved him seeing an independent concussion specialist before being cleared to play.

Last summer, World Rugby made it mandatory that players who are deemed to be “higher risk” must visit an independent concussion specialist before returning to play following a concussion.

Players are deemed “higher risk” if they have been concussed within the last three months, have had two or more concussions in the last 12 months, or have had five or more concussions since starting to play rugby.

Ryan came through that period and returned to action with Leinster in December. 

He had a Head Injury Assessment [HIA] during Ireland’s visit to Paris last month in this Six Nations but passed that and returned to finish the game.

Last weekend, Ryan took a jarring blow to the head in that reckless Ewels tackle and there was never any question of him returning. Speaking post-match, head coach Andy Farrell said that the second row was doing well.

james-ryan-on-the-ground-after-a-hit-by-charlie-ewels-which-resulted-in-him-being-sent-off Ryan was injured in Charlie Ewels' dangerous tackle. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

“James obviously didn’t return to the field but he’s fine,” said Farrell.

“He’s recovered well and was celebrating with the lads. He’ll go through the protocols again.”

Whether Ryan should be considered for this weekend’s clash with Scotland even if he does come through the return-to-play protocols is highly debatable. There has been plenty of criticism in rugby of the fact that concussed players can return to action within a week of their head injury.

It remains to be seen what happens next with Ryan – Ireland are due to issue an injury update this afternoon – but there is no doubting that his latest head injury is concerning. 

Iain Henderson is presumably in line to come into the starting second row in place of Ryan if he is ruled out of the Scotland game, having replaced him against England, with Ryan Baird likely to be included on the bench as a result.

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Otherwise, it will be interesting to see if Farrell opts for much change as Ireland look to secure the Triple Crown for the first time since 2018.

The back three of Hugo Keenan, James Lowe, and Andrew Conway went well last weekend, although Mack Hansen has impressed in this championship too and was unlucky to miss out against England.

Robbie Henshaw had a dynamic 15-minute showing off the bench in Twickenham and will be pushing for a start in midfield against the Scots.

Jack Conan was similarly impactful as a replacement, but it might be that Farrell fancies using him and Henshaw in the same roles again this weekend.

Cian Healy was part of an Irish scrum that struggled so it will be intriguing to see if Farrell opts to back his experience again this weekend or hand Dave Kilcoyne a starting chance at loosehead prop against Scotland.

Conor Murray and Rob Herring also did well off the Irish bench but overall, it’s hard to see Farrell making too many changes for this final fixture of the 2022 Championship. 

About the author:

Murray Kinsella

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