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'Everyone is aware that every part of our game has to step up' - Ryan

James Ryan says when that he thinks about New Zealand, he thinks of the 2019 World Cup loss more than the 2018 win in Dublin.

Ireland locks James Ryan and Iain Henderson.
Ireland locks James Ryan and Iain Henderson.
Image: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

JAMES RYAN HAS faced the Haka twice in his Test career.

On the first occasion, at the Aviva in 2018, he ended up on the winning team – not many players can say that.

One year later in Japan, he was on the end of a much more familiar experience for Irish rugby players – chastening, gut-wrenching defeat.

“Obviously growing up watching the All Blacks, how iconic they are, the Haka and everything is all part of that,” Ryan says.

“It was cool when I did get to experience it, but if anything it kind of gets the crowd going and brings the crowd into it. Maybe it helps in that way as well.”

Without dedicating too much energy to it, the Ireland squad have discussed the Haka this week. For seven of the starting team, Saturday will be their first Test outing against the All Blacks.

“We’ve just touched on the step up that it is to play New Zealand,” Ryan continues.

Obviously they’re up there as one of the top one or two in the world, so we’ve mentioned that everything we’ve done up to this point won’t be good enough with these guys. Everyone is aware that every part of our game has to step up.

“There were moments last week (against Japan) where we switched off, which we wouldn’t get away with this week.

“Everything has to be better. We can’t miss a moment, that’s kind of the mantra that we’ve touched on the last few weeks.

“That comes in everything, our attack, our defence, our energy, our bench is massive this week, how we make each other feel, how we make the guys next to us feel is huge, and if you switch off with your body language or mentally for a split-second, that’s all they need to get into the game.”

james-ryan-with-kieran-read-and-aaron-smith Ryan was on the winning team when he first faced the All Blacks back in 2018. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

The mentality aspect of playing New Zealand has come up a couple of times this week. They are an opponent that requires your full, undivided attention. There’s no room for lapses in concentration, but that’s also easier said than done – just look at the amount of intercept tries New Zealand score.

Earlier this week, Ireland captain Johnny Sexton said Ireland will need to pick and chose their moments when it comes to taking risks in attack. Yesterday, Andy Farrell echoed that sentiment, while also underlining that he wants his players to take the game to the All Blacks. It’s a fine balance to strike, and a lot of information for players to compute in the heat of a Test match.

“(It’s) the balance between the attacking rugby we play, and we obviously showed them clips last week and the pressure rugby we need to play at times with these guys, playing in the right areas of the pitch, we need to be good in our exits, how we kick the ball and how good our kick chase is when we do play, how we are connected,” Ryan explains.

“We want to be, I suppose, ahead of the game. But when we do have the ball in hand we have to be in control because we might be putting together five or six good phases and if there is a turnover, these guys could punish you straight away so, yeah, we really have to be on it for 80 minutes and we are looking forward to it.”

Ryan was asked about the importance of beating the All Blacks back in 2018. His answer provided an interesting insight into his own mentality.

It was a great win for us. It was a special night. I tend to think about the last time I played them more than the one in 2018 at this point but, yeah, when you put them under pressure, that is the big thing. The more pressure you can put them under, the better, so we will see how you get on this week.”

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The “last time” he mentions, of course, being the 2019 World Cup quarter-final, a 46-14 defeat.

“The World Cup is the pinnacle of the sport we play. Obviously losing in the manner we did was very tough to take so it takes time to go away. I think we are on a bit of a journey now, we have learned the lessons over the past few years and trying to take them forward. That’s why I kinda mentioned I tend to think of that game rather than the game in 2018.”

Ryan, 25, always comes across a calm, collected individual. Yet weeks like this always get the blood racing.

“It definitely does,” he says. “I feel like when the All Blacks come to town, the whole feeling throughout the week is a little bit different. You sort of feel like the whole country gets involved with it.” 

Bernard Jackman, Niamh Briggs, and Ciarán Kennedy join Murray Kinsella to discuss Ireland v All Blacks and the latest big story in Irish women’s rugby:

Source: The42 Rugby Weekly/SoundCloud

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