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'Those sorts of things, they give the other players real confidence'

James Ryan delivered yet another outstanding performance in Ireland’s win over Wales.

AN INABILITY TO hang onto the ball left Ireland defending for long portions of the opening quarter against Wales on Saturday and they needed some big defensive plays to hold the Welsh at bay early in the game.

Not long after Rob Kearney’s superb coverage had prevented a score for George North, outside centre Robbie Henshaw made an excellent read and hit on Ross Moriarty to ensure Wales couldn’t take advantage of an overlap wide on their left.

Henshaw’s ball-and-all tackle meant Moriarty couldn’t get an offload away either, and the next phase saw the impactful CJ Stander and Josh van der Flier tackling Jake Ball for a further loss of metres for the Welsh. 

Under pressure, the visitors had to resort to kicking the ball through out-half Rhys Patchell, whose miskick was poorly dealt with by Ireland, as Bundee Aki stayed on the ground and opposite number Hadleigh Parkes batted the ball back on the Welsh side.

Suddenly, another opportunity beckoned for the Welsh wide on the left.

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As we can see above, Wales have great width in their attacking line, with Jonathan Davies, Justin Tipuric and Josh Adams all in or close to being in the 15-metre channel.

Jordan Larmour [yellow] is beginning to close up from the backfield but Ireland’s edge defender is second row James Ryan [white].

Numbers down out wide, having a second row in this position would be something of a disaster for most teams.

However, James Ryan is not like most second rows.

We get a superb showing of the 23-year-old’s mobility and pace in the instance below.

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Click here if you cannot view the clip above

Wales look to target the space out wide by using Alun Wyn Jones as a link passer from the ruck to out-half Patchell, who then screens a pass to Leigh Halfpenny, who hits Davies.

Wales will be disappointed with their inability to fix Ryan here, but we’re as interested in the Ireland lock’s superb defensive effort.

Having initially come forward with the Irish defenders to his inside, Ryan rapidly changes into a drift towards the touchline as Halfpenny passes to Davies.

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The sheer acceleration Ryan shows here is impressive and allows the second row to connect with Larmour outside him.

Ryan’s work-rate drifting across the pitch means that Larmour is not forced to turn in on Davies as the centre runs at his inside – Larmour trusts Ryan to be able to get across and tackle Davies in the event that the Wales centre dummies and carries himself.

With other locks, the doubt would be greater in Larmour’s mind, but his trust in Ryan allows the Ireland wing to continue his own drift [yellow below] out to the touchline.

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As Davies opts to move the ball – throwing a poor pass high and behind Adams – Larmour is, therefore, able to drift out onto Adams and plant his left shoulder into the Wales wing as Adams steps inside off the touchline.

In the same moment, Ryan arrives in high on Adams, targeting the ball.

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Click here if you cannot view the clip above 

Ryan’s explosive impact in contact is obvious as he uses his right arm to strip the ball free of Adams’ grasp before the tackle has been completed.

From looking exposed on the right edge of their defence, Ireland have now secured a turnover scrum platform to attack from.

“Those sorts of things, they give the other players on the pitch real confidence,” said Schmidt on Saturday, underlining Ryan’s lead-by-example influence.

This turnover tackle was just one part of the latest sensational performance from Ryan, who has started this season in deeply impressive fashion, looking slightly bigger and even more explosive than was the case last season, when he wasn’t lacking in ballast.

Ryan called the lineout for the second time at Test level on Saturday against Wales and two early losses on the Irish throw didn’t bode well, but the second row and his fellow forwards solved the issues and won the remainder of their throws in this game.

Ryan landed some big shots in making eight tackles, while his communication around the defensive ruck was superb. Sean O’Brien and Jamie Heaslip used to be the loudest presences on the ref mic during Ireland games but Ryan is audibly growing into that role.

Six metres gained in 10 carries against the Welsh doesn’t read too well but those numbers don’t take into account the pressure Ryan was under when carrying close into the ruck.

jack-conan-andrew-porter-james-ryan-iain-henderson-and-dave-kilcoyne Ryan is a towering presence for Ireland. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

His fight for every single available inch is inspirational to team-mates as Ryan invariably wriggles forward for every gain possible. He was held up over the tryline on one occasion on Saturday, before getting his try later in the game as the TMO couldn’t disprove referee Mathieu Raynal’s sense that Ryan had dotted down.

One other thing to note was Ryan’s pass to Dave Kilcoyne on turnover possession for Ireland in the first half, following on from an offload in similar circumstances against Wales in Cardiff.

Ryan’s search for contact in such situations has been one weakness in his armoury as he has established himself with Leinster and Ireland, but even that is seemingly improving with every appearance. 

It’s also worth underlining that Jean Kleyn scrummaged in the demanding tighthead lock slot against the Welsh, where Ryan generally packs down, and that perhaps preserved some of Ryan’s energy for those impacts around the pitch. It’s certainly something Schmidt will have considered.

Either way, there is no doubt that Ryan will travel to the World Cup tomorrow as one of the best players involved in the tournament, even at the age of 23.

Schmidt’s Ireland have a truly special player in their midst.

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About the author:

Murray Kinsella

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