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A first professional defeat but James Ryan's remarkable rise continues

The 21-year-old had another impressive outing against the Wallabies last weekend.

Murray Kinsella reports from Melbourne

IF THE AUSTRALIAN rugby public didn’t know too much about James Ryan before, they got a decent flavour of what the 21-year-old is capable of last weekend.

James Ryan Ryan was in the losing team for the first time in his pro career last weekend. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Unfortunately for Ryan, his latest strong performance came in the first defeat of his professional rugby career.

24 games for Ireland and Leinster in, the second row finally felt the pain of losing, as the Wallabies went 1-0 up in the series ahead of this Saturday’s second Test in Melbourne.

Speaking post-match in Brisbane last weekend after Ryan’s “hell of a run” came to an end, Ireland boss Joe Schmidt praised the work-rate that the lock has been consistently offering.

16 carries for an average gain of 2.7 metres per carry was impressive, given that many of his possessions come in the narrow channels against a bank of defenders, while Ryan also made 15 tackles, contributed to the scrum and maul, threw two accurate offloads, and claimed two lineouts.

“He’s got a massive engine,” said Schmidt. “His first-half, the amount of times he carried the ball or tackled, his two-man tackle in the middle of the pitch when he gets up and takes the ball, takes it forward.

“He’s a 21-year-old man who has grown up fast and is getting better.”

That double hit with Jack McGrath, followed by Ryan’s turnover was an immense defensive moment from Ireland, the youngest man on the pitch at that time leading the way.


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Ever the perfectionist, Schmidt did also point out that Ryan lost a couple of moments in contact, including a missed tackle on Brandon Paenga-Amosa in the 21st minute.

“I think he’ll be disappointed with a couple of things, he slipped off a couple of tackles which is unlike him,” said Schmidt. ”That’s the nature of some of the footwork that some of the Wallabies have.”

Ryan holds himself to the highest standards, of course, which is one of the reasons he has excelled so early in his career.

With Grand Slam, Champions Cup and Guinness Pro14 titles already on his CV, Ryan will be desperate to help Ireland turn this series against the Wallabies around.

Assistant coach Andy Farrell has been impressed with the second row’s impact over the last year for Ireland, having made his debut last summer on the tour of the US and Japan.

“As coaches, you don’t like singling out players too much because it is a team collective,” said Farrell, “but when a kid has risen so quickly like he has and using him as an example of, ‘This is what it’s about…’ He just learns very quickly.


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“He understands what it takes to be able to not just survive at this level but to impress and show what he’s worth.”

James Ryan Ryan at Ireland training in Melbourne on Tuesday. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Every time Ryan has had to step up to a new challenge, he has done so with apparent comfort, although there is nothing comfortable about the work-rate he delivers.

“I remember before his first game in the Six Nations,” said Farrell. “It’s a big, daunting task for him to play against the French away because we know what the French are like, especially in Paris at the start of a competition, and he was nervous.

“He wanted to put his best foot forward and we had a chat and he just needed to come off the field having been himself, so that he’s proud that whatever he’s put on that field is a good representation of what he’s about.

“After that performance, which was an excellent performance from him, he’s realised: ‘This is where I belong,’ and he’s gone from strength to strength.”

Even still, Ireland feel there is more to come from Ryan.

“There was a lot of good play from him,” said Farrell of the second row’s display last weekend. “He doesn’t often get knocked backwards. He’s great at looking after the ball as well and his hands were great, even though he’s taking balls that weren’t quite on the money for himself, he’s offloading the ball.

“He made some great one-on-one hits but, having said that, he fell off a few as well. He knows he can be better this week, which is great.”

It seems likely that Devin Toner will get a shot in the second row this weekend, having sat out the first Test, and he may well partner Ryan in the locking department.

Tadhg Beirne during training Beirne has been getting up to speed with Ireland's methods. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Another option for Ireland in this position on tour in Australia is the uncapped Tadhg Beirne, who has been busy behind the scenes learning all of the team’s systems, structures and calls.

“I’ve been very impressed,” said Farrell of Beirne. “He’s got a lot of catching up to do but he’s worked extremely hard behind the scenes. He’s fitted in brilliantly well with the rest of the lads.

“He’s a good character within the group and that’s what you want to see on tours like this. They’re important in World Cups, whether they can be a tourist and fit into the group, and he’s ready to put his best foot forward.”

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Murray Kinsella

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