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James Ryan went to Paris as 'a kid' in 2018 but returns as an Ireland leader

The 24-year-old has enjoyed taking responsibility for running the Ireland lineout.

Ryan made his Six Nations debut in Paris in 2018.
Ryan made his Six Nations debut in Paris in 2018.
Image: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

THE GAME WILL be forever remembered because of ‘Le Drop’ but it’s also eye-opening to recall that Ireland’s last visit to Paris was James Ryan’s Six Nations debut.

He had won his first caps in 2017 and his prodigious talent was clear, yet it still felt like a ballsy call for Joe Schmidt to back a 21-year-old Ryan to start alongside Iain Henderson, with Devin Toner on the bench.

Ireland head coach Andy Farrell, who was Schmidt’s assistant back then, remembers it well, recalling it as a genuinely transformative night in Ryan’s development.

“As a kid going over to France in front of a full house, that is a daunting task,” says Farrell.

“I remember speaking to him the night before to say, ‘This will be just like any other game, when you walk across that white line you’ve got to make sure that you’ll be yourself’ and wow, he certainly was.

“He was boy to man that evening. And I think he’s grown massive belief from that one performance that he belongs in this environment.”

Ryan is certainly at a very different stage of his career coming into this Saturday’s showdown at the empty Stade de France. He’s one of the first names onto Ireland’s team sheet, is now their lineout leader, and was even mentioned yesterday as a possible 2021 Lions captain by Warren Gatland.

The 24-year-old himself feels he hasn’t really gone away from his fundamentals from back in 2018 “in terms of trying to be effective on both sides of the ball,” but points out that the extra responsibility of calling the lineout – which he has taken over in Iain Henderson’s absence – makes him more of a tactical presence.

irelands-team-huddle-with-james-ryan Ryan is now calling the Irish lineout. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

“Coming into the team at that stage [in 2018], I would have been getting up to speed with calls, the plays, the lineout. 

“Having that extra responsibility in terms of the lineout now, you’re more involved in our attack, you probably have to have a deeper understanding of that as well and I’m enjoying it and it’s good experience for me.”

His head coach, Farrell, is perhaps better placed to describe Ryan’s changing status in terms of influence on others around him.

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“He’s certainly growing within his leadership,” says Farrell. “Seven or eight months ago when we were together, I saw a growth within his want to portray himself as a leader within the group.

“Fast forward seven or eight months, he’s a lot more comfortable in that role with his lineout calling, with his forward pack and then with how he portrays his will to win to the rest of the group.”

Ryan and his fellow forwards will have to be at their very best this weekend against a French pack that will ask plenty of difficult questions of them.

The likes of Charles Ollivon, Grégory Alldritt, Bernard Le Roux, Julien Marchand, and Paul Willemse are big men who play right on the edge.

“They are very powerful,” says Ryan. “When they’ve got guys like Camille Chat and Demba Bamba to bring off the bench last weekend, that is saying something.

irelands-james-ryan-wins-a-line-out Ryan rises for a lineout steal against Italy last weekend. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

“I think set-piece for us as a forward pack is so important this week. It always is but particularly playing away in France the lineout and the scrum is massive.

“Defensively, we’ve got to be really strong too because they got so many strong ball-carriers. Ollivon is another talisman for them.”

Scoring two maul tries against Italy last time out was a boost for the Irish pack after that area of their game had been poor earlier this year but Ryan is well aware that pushing this French pack backwards will be a totally different challenge.

“We were happy enough last week, getting two tries over the line as a pack is always good for us, so it was a little confidence boost.

“Obviously, France will be a much tougher ask this week and at the lineout as well.

“I think we’ve got to make sure we have that variety, that we aren’t always looking to drive, that we’ve got a bit of movement and a bit of variety in our play. Because you probably don’t want to get into an arm-wrestle with them too often but when you do pick your moments, you want to be effective.”

About the author:

Murray Kinsella

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