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O'Connell and Sexton provide role models as Ryan takes on Ireland captaincy

The 24-year-old has lots of underage experience as a captain but this is an obvious step up.

Ryan has been named Ireland captain for the first time.
Ryan has been named Ireland captain for the first time.
Image: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

WHILE JOHNNY SEXTON had to wait until the age of 34 to be named Ireland skipper for the first time, James Ryan gets the honour a decade earlier.

There is some precedent for such a young man taking on the job, with Brian O’Driscoll having captained Ireland at the age of 23 back in 2002 and Rob Saunders doing it as a 22-year-old in 1991. Like Ryan, Paul O’Connell was 24 when he first did it. 

Ryan’s ascension to the role has long been expected. He captained virtually every team he was part of as an underage player, including leading the Ireland U20s to a World Championship final in 2016, although he hasn’t really done it at senior level.

Indeed, he has been named Ireland captain before having the honour with Leinster. That Ryan also made his Test debut in green before having played a senior game for the province underlines how special a player he was and still is. 

An injury to Sexton has speeded the process up. Ryan took over as captain during the win over Wales last weekend when the out-half picked up his hamstring issue and has been named as skipper for Saturday’s clash with England due to Sexton being ruled out.

Ryan says “it was no big deal” when Ireland boss Andy Farrell told him he had the gig, but he admits he could be a little rusty in the role.

“It’s been a while since I captained a team,” says Ryan of a five-year hiatus without the responsibility or burden. He stressed how heavily he will be leaning on Peter O’Mahony, Iain Henderson, and Keith Earls this week and on into Saturday.

Last weekend was “enjoyable” for Ryan as he stressed that element of shared leadership.

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james-ryan-celebrates-after-quinn-roux-scores-a-try Ryan took over from Sexton last week. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

“It was definitely Pete and myself running things as opposed to me doing it alone. It was good and I thought when Billy Burns came on, he ran the game really well and that makes my life easy.”

In terms of leaders he has learned from in professional rugby, Sexton is the obvious role model. 

“Johnny is obviously an unbelievable captain so I’m learning tonnes from him all the time, I think we all do,” says Ryan.

“You look at someone like Paul O’Connell who was an incredible leader, someone I grew up watching and I’ve heard how good a captain he was from the lads. They’re two that stick out.

“Johnny just demands that we bring unbelievable standards. He always brings unbelievable standards himself. He leads by his actions every week, he’s so consistent and he has such a competitive drive, it’s infectious. Whatever leadership style you want to call that but it’s very much everyone following him.

“I don’t really know as much about Paul O’Connell but I’m sure he was similar.”

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