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'He will become one of the greats' - Ryan central in Ireland pack primed to step up

Meanwhile, Rhys Ruddock put himself firmly in the mix with a big showing against Russia.

IN A MARK of his stature within the Ireland squad, James Ryan has been sitting in on senior player leadership group meetings since the World Cup build-up began during the summer.

The 23-year-old has captained virtually every team he has been part of on his pathway to Test rugby and he looks a certainty to officially lead Ireland in the future.

“I’ll leave that to Faz,” said forwards coach Simon Easterby with a smile yesterday, indicating that incoming head coach Andy Farrell can make the decision as to how soon Ryan gets the captaincy.

james-ryan-dejected-after-the-game Ryan is a key man for Ireland at the age of 23. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Anyone who watches Ireland play can already see that Ryan is very much leading by example, delivering astounding consistency and workload in his performances in a green jersey. 

“He comes across as being quite quiet,” said Easterby of Ryan. “But actually he’s a real student of the game. He works incredibly hard on the physical element but certainly the mental part of the game.

“I don’t think he’d even played a senior game for Leinster when we took him to the States to make his debut [in 2017]. Maybe there were a few eyebrows raised at that but he hasn’t disappointed. He’s a phenomenal athlete.

“There’s no big ‘I am’ about him, even though his nickname [The Big Cheese] would suggest otherwise. He’s just a guy who will continue to grow and will continue to lead, whether that’s through having a (c) next to his name or just through his actions.

“I think he will become one of the greats, I’ve no doubts about that. He’s certainly on the right track currently. He works incredibly hard and that I guess is the baseline for any great player – that they have the raw talent, the ability, but they also work incredibly hard. He has all three.”

Ryan is increasingly the heartbeat of a front-line Ireland pack that was monstrous in their World Cup opener against Scotland but dipped notably against Japan and hasn’t had a chance to redeem themselves due to the wholesale changes for the Russia win.

Saturday against Samoa in Fukuoka feels like the right occasion for Easterby’s charges to deliver their most convincing and muscular performance yet, as Ireland look to secure a quarter-final and top spot in Pool A.

“I think our scrum has been effective, it’s been a good weapon,” said Easterby of Ireland’s forwards’ showing so far in Japan.

‘We’ve had a couple of maul opportunities that we didn’t quite nail, one for a penalty against us [in the Russia game] for disconnecting but we had a good set-up. We had some good outfield mauls where we got a little bit of success at changing the picture in defence. 

dave-kilcoyne-during-a-maul Ireland's forwards maul against Russia. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

“If we can bring all of that this weekend, along with the quality ball-carrying and quality work in the contact area on the attack side, then we’ll hopefully find a different animal on Saturday.

“But Samoa won’t just roll over and allow us to do that, we’ve seen how tough they can be in large parts of their games and that presents a challenge in itself so it’s going to be physical and we’ve got to be in the right place emotionally, but we’ve also got to have our smarts and game understanding to allow us to get through those periods when things don’t go our way.”

It’s expected that regular first-choice players like Cian Healy, Ryan, Tadhg Furlong, Iain Henderson, CJ Stander, and captain Rory Best will return to Ireland’s starting XV this weekend, but Easterby underlined the importance of a World Cup squad being about “31 players who are all challenging for starting spots.”

In that sense, strong showings from Tadhg Beirne and, particularly, Rhys Ruddock were timely in the Russia game last week.

The Leinster blindside was named man of the match for a showing that underlined his ball-carrying class and calm leadership. Ruddock certainly put his hand up for another start.

“Rhys was brilliant against Russia,” said Easterby. “He’s a physical man, he’s well built, he’s a clone of his brother, Ciaran [Ireland's assistant S&C coach], and he’s done really well.

“He suffered a bit during the pre-season with a few niggles and didn’t always get through as much work as we would have liked but I was delighted for him on Thursday that he got an opportunity to get the run that he did and he certainly didn’t let anyone down.

“If anything, he stood up really well and he was leading the charge a lot of the time and you couldn’t meet a better guy for the team.

“I think everyone was delighted with his performance and that adds to that conundrum and competition that we’ve got in the back row which is exactly what we want.

rhys-ruddock Ruddock was superb against Russia. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

“He’s had some major injuries as well but also works incredibly hard to get his body in the right shape and I think we’re very fortunate that he’s come into this tournament and shown a real quality on Thursday and that only pushes other guys to step up.

“Rhys has done himself a lot of good with that performance and it got the team on the front foot and he is capable of doing that.

“There’s no doubt that he is certainly in the mix, but in terms of what he offers to the team and the wider group, he’s such a good man that you’d be happy to go to war with him.”

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About the author:

Murray Kinsella  / Reports from Fukuoka

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