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Dublin: 6°C Monday 18 January 2021

21-year-old Ryan a force for Ireland as he holds himself to highest standards

The Leinster lock is already an impressive presence in Test rugby.

IT SAYS A lot about James Ryan that even after a game like Saturday’s, he was immediately focusing on one of his shortcomings.

The second row had just helped Ireland to a third win in three Six Nations games. It was just his sixth cap, only his second Six Nations start. All at the age of 21.

Jacob Stockdale, James Ryan and Rob Kearney celebrate after the game Ryan with Jacob Stockdale and Rob Kearney. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

And while there was an obvious degree of satisfaction, Ryan brought up his involvement in the phase of play where Conor Murray was injured just after Johnny Sexton’s tap penalty in the 69th minute.

The question was about Ireland’s control of their 37-27 win over Wales, but Ryan looked towards one of his negative contributions.

“I think in the second half, we kinda got on top of them and we could have finished them off a couple of times,” said the Leinster lock.

“There was one incident where we were on their line when Dan Leavy made a carry and I’m kinda braced over the ball and I kinda get dominated pretty much… well I don’t kinda get dominated, I do get dominated.

“Then, as a result, Murray is under pressure. We end up spilling the ball and we give them an easy out. I think moments like that, we could have been better at and as a result, could have put them away earlier.”

It’s typical of Ryan, who has a ceaseless desire to be the very best player he can be – a drive so strong that some of those who have worked with him say they haven’t seen in any other young player before.

Ryan’s character, leadership, rapid rise and his dominant early performance in Ireland’s second row have led to comparisons with Paul O’Connell, but the former St. Michael’s College man doesn’t feel he warrants such praise.

James Ryan with Josh Navidi Ryan makes a carry against the Welsh. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

“It’s really humbling to be compared to someone like that but it’s not really appropriate. He’s one of the greats of Irish rugby and to be compared to someone like that is humbling but not appropriate.”

While Ryan said that he didn’t have a clear target in mind in terms of when he would break through with Ireland at senior level, he is not shy in stating that he felt he could reach this level sooner rather than later.

He does not appear to be the kind of person who will get carried away with early achievements, but Ryan has belief in his ability.

“Playing for Ireland is certainly something I had at the very forefront of my mind,” said Ryan when asked if he could have envisaged playing in the Six Nations 12 months ago.

“I can’t remember what was going on in my head this time last year but I would like to think I was pretty focused on it.”

Ryan’s ball-carrying has been outstanding for Ireland in his starts against France and Wales, while his tackling technique is superb and his set-piece work – particularly at tighthead lock in the scrums – is also highly advanced.

His emergence as a force for Ireland has made them a better team and squad, and the confidence around this group is growing and growing.

James Ryan Ryan gets a pass away under pressure. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

There are defensive issues to remedy before the closing two rounds of this Six Nations, but Ryan feels this Ireland squad is in a good place.

“I think we’ve just got some world-class players right across the team. Obviously, Mur  and Sexto kinda run a lot of the show in many respects. They’re world-class players.

“And I think the squad depth is brilliant. Guys get injured and guys are able to fill in really well.”

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Murray Kinsella

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