Thursday 9 February 2023 Dublin: 6°C
# hit-out
A peek outside the bubble has James Ryan refreshed and ready to get Ireland firing
A few beers and a boistorous crop of U20s has the young lock in positive mood as the Six Nations finish line comes into view.

‘THAT WAS JUST what we needed,’ says James Ryan, still breathing deep and sweating a little after a high-tempo training session against Ireland’s U20s in Queen’s University.

His boots were removed before coming in out of the bright sunshine – extremely at odds with the weekend which lay ahead – and a trace scent of the mud and grass on his studs  wafted up in the pristine facility.

The boots are off. And the gloves came close too.

“I would have been exactly the same as they were today,” says Ryan, just three years removed from the age-grade squad, “just excited, really, to get stuck in. I almost lost the head there a couple of times when they were coming in pretty hard.

“But I forgot I was doing the same just a few years back, it’s fair enough.”

James Ryan Dan Sheridan / INPHO James Ryan runs into Ireland U20s tacklers. Dan Sheridan / INPHO / INPHO

Ryan and the rest of the Ireland squad fit for field action were happily welcoming the hit-out as they look to change the mood and the narrative surrounding their Six Nations defence against a rejuvenated France team bound for the Aviva Stadium on Sunday.

The social club within the squad were clearly on the same page as the wise sages speculating from the ditch. If beer was not the answer to the lack of cohesion bemoaned throughout this year’s three Tests, it was well worth exploring.

“We got a good bit of work done (in Belfast), that was our main session today. We’ve just enjoyed each other’s company. Went out for a bite to eat a couple of nights ago and did the Black Cab tour yesterday morning. It hasn’t been all work, we’ve got to enjoy each other’s company a bit.

We had a few beers in Rome after the game as well. So it’s important we can have a bit of craic and get away from the bubble.”

“I think when we’re not performing at the level we know we’re capable of, maybe we can get a bit over anxious and start forcing things a bit. That’s why it’s important we, y’know, just chill out as well.

“Get that balance between training – when we’re on, we’re really on – but when the work’s done we can put the feet up for a bit.”

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James Ryan Dan Sheridan / INPHO Ryan runs at the pads on Friday. Dan Sheridan / INPHO / INPHO

After a weekend removed from the bubble, Ryan and the squad will be back together in Carton House today. More than most, the 22-year-old lock will go to Kildare chomping at the bit for run at Les Bleus after being rested for the win over Italy in Rome. Having travelled with the squad, he was close enough to taste the frustration, but not close enough to do anything about it.

“I’m probably a bad watcher,” he says with quiet intensity, “you kind of hate being on the sideline watching, you feel kind of helpless.

“It wasn’t great at times but I think there was a small bit of relief towards the last quarter, I maybe got to enjoy it a small bit more.”

Ryan can only properly enjoy a game when he is in the thick of it, racking up carries, hard yards and flexing his muscles in the maul. Given his tender years, the impact he has made on this Ireland team has been phenomenal, and the frequency of those impacts have led some to raise concerns over whether his work-rate was maybe even too high – perhaps he should keep that shoulder off the wheel now and then.

“When I’m out there I’m definitely not going to hold back or mind myself. I don’t think that would be the right approach.,” says Ryan, who is confident the work done in strength and conditioning will allow him to continue digging deep.

James Ryan Ryan Byrne / INPHO File photo: Ryan during a gym session in Japan in 2017. Ryan Byrne / INPHO / INPHO

“We have a big emphasis in national camp and with our province on our ‘quarry’; making sure we build up our shoulders, ankles and knees, creating that buffer so that if you do get a niggle you have that strength in that area. 

“I work pretty hard in managing those niggles, making sure my shoulder strength is where it needs to be. If I keep doing that it will work as a protector against injury.”

While Ireland enter the week with concern over Joey Carbery and Robbie Henshaw, with questions about the fitness of Johnny Sexton, CJ Stander and Sean O’Brien, the presence of a fit and refreshed Ryan will be massive fillip.

A second consecutive title for Ireland looks very unlikely at this point, but this squad will feel they have plenty to prove in the two games remaining.

“I’m not looking too much into the mathematics or permutations of it.

“I’m just looking forward to getting stuck into training next week and putting in a performance we can be proud of, that’s the big one for us, never mind the result, put in a performance we can walk off the pitch and be happy with.”

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