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'He's had a real impact' - O'Connell's influence paying off for Ryan

The Ireland lock is in good form after a difficult season last year.

James Ryan with Paul O'Connell.
James Ryan with Paul O'Connell.
Image: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

BIG THINGS HAVE been expected from James Ryan ever since he burst onto the scene. Back in 2017, the hype began as soon as he made his international debut before having played a senior game for Leinster, and it didn’t take long before there was talk of him being a future Ireland captain.

Ryan, who famously went 24 matches before tasting defeat in his pro career, has since experienced his fair share of lows.

Last season was one of the most testing yet. There was the hollow feeling of playing in front of empty stadiums, as well as the disappointment and concussion injuries that marked his Six Nations, the manner of Leinster’s Champions Cup exit to La Rochelle and then missing out on the Lions tour to South Africa.

“It probably wasn’t the easiest season last season,” Ryan says,

“Look, I think being a player performing at this level you always have doubts. I have doubts when things are going pretty well for me.

“There’s a saying, if you doubt yourself you trust yourself, you know what I mean? You can never be comfortable and happy with where you are and I don’t think I’ve ever been complacent, but yeah I think this season has been good to me so far.

“Getting a few knocks, it takes a while to get your confidence back and build up that bit of confidence.”

Like so many of his teammates, Ryan was superb against New Zealand last Saturday. This week he takes on the added responsibility of stepping in as captain in place of the injured Johnny Sexton.

james-ryan-wins-a-line-out-ball Ryan had a superb game against New Zealand. Source: Bryan Keane/INPHO

Ryan is still finding his feet as a captain, but is learning from some of the best around. As well as having the likes of Sexton to look to, he also highlights the influence Paul O’Connell has had since coming on board as Ireland forwards coach.

“He’s had a real impact. I just think he’s a fantastic coach,” Ryan says.

“He’s very like Joe (Schmidt) in a lot of ways, in terms of his attention to detail around the ruck and around the set-piece as well for us forwards.

“He’s had a real influence on the group. He’s pretty obsessed with rugby, is the way I’d put it, which is what you want from a coach.

“It’s kind of what you need at the top level so he’s been great, he doesn’t miss a thing and he’s very direct, he’s very honest, it’s black or white. So you know pretty quickly when you’re not on it or when you’ve made a mistake because he lets guys know.” 

Other people around the Ireland squad lead in different ways. Across a series of interviews over the last few weeks, Keith Earls has spoken impressively about his mental health, an issue many close to the Munster man were not aware of until recently.

“I didn’t even know, so I saw it on the Late Late Show and it was pretty inspiring, to be honest,” Ryan explains.

“You talk about bravery, but I suppose having the courage to speak like that so honestly on national TV was pretty inspiring for us.

“I didn’t think I could think higher of Earlsy already, I was obviously wrong because off the back of that I suppose my admiration of him has even grown. We kind of already knew how big a character he was in here but I think everybody else knows, the way he’s able to normalise that, that it doesn’t matter who you are or what you have going for you, mental health doesn’t discriminate.

“In a way he has shown that. So yeah, pretty inspiring for us and I think for a lot of people out there.”

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On the pitch, the displays against Japan and New Zealand this month have provided further evidence that this Ireland squad are making positive strides under Andy Farrell and his coaching team.

Another big performance against Argentina this weekend would be a perfect ending to what so far, has been a hugely encouraging autumn window.

“The big thing for us now is that we can’t come off the back of a good win and then not show up this week,” Ryan continues.

“So I think that was the pleasing thing when we came back in, it feels like everyone’s turned the page pretty quickly and we’re already looking forward to this weekend.

“So yeah, it’s very important that we finish this block the way we want to finish it.”

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Ciarán Kennedy

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