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'Our whole thing was that we've got to have the same attitude as Donnacha'

Tipperary man Donnacha Ryan has had a telling impact on Racing 92 since joining last summer.

THEIR SQUAD INCLUDES superstars like Dan Carter, Leone Nakarawa and Teddy Thomas, but Racing 92 have been looking to Tipperary man Donnacha Ryan for inspiration this season.

While the former Munster second row might not be the most glamorous player in the French club’s side, he will be among the most important if they are to upset the odds and beat Leinster in Saturday’s Champions Cup final in Bilbao.

Racing 92’s Donnacha Ryan with Munster fans Ryan was superb as Racing beat Munster in the semi-finals. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

Ryan missed the early months of this season due to a neck injury, having joined Racing last summer, but since then he has been instrumental in their journey to the European decider.

The 34-year-old has also helped Racing into the semi-finals of the Top 14 and his team-mates have been highly impressed with what he has added to their squad.

Even a former All Black of 68 caps and 46 tries like Joe Rokocoko has been blown away.

“He’s massive, he always seems to be having a little meeting, he loves his rugby too much,” said Rokocoko yesterday.

“He’s awesome for the group, the amount of experience he brings to the boys. He has enormous respect from the boys because of what he says, what he does on the field.

“I think a perfect example was when we played against Munster. We were shown a video clip of how our attitude should be against Munster in the last pool game here at the U Arena [in January].

“It was in the 78th minute and there was a restart from us and we see this lock sprinting for the ball and passing our wingers. It was the 78th minute and this was a guy who had gas, attitude and he got the ball back.

“At the end of the video, our whole thing was that we’ve got to have the same attitude as what Donnacha brings to the game.

Donnacha Ryan with a sliotar that was thrown from the crowd after the game Ryan with a sliotar thrown to him by a Munster fan. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

“He sets a great example with his actions and he brings a lot to the lineout as well. He demands a lot from us and so much from the young guys with their attitude and making sure that they are peaking for each game.

“He brings a little bit of an Irish attitude into rucks and mauls to make sure everyone is digging in.”

They’re rather gushing words of praise from Rokocoko but the modest Ryan won’t be paying them any heed – taking down Leinster’s lineout and causing havoc for their attack with his physicality will be his focuses in the coming days.

Rokocoko will see a very familiar face in the Leinster ranks on Saturday, another player who has been an inspiration to his team-mates.

Isa Nacewa played alongside Rokocoko for the Blues from 2005 until 2008, before the versatile back left for his first stint with Leinster.

“His nickname for us was Mr. Fixit because any injury that might come in the backline, he could just fit in like he had been playing in the position since day one,” said Rokocoko. “He covered 10 to 15 because he was such a talented player and could adjust.

“He had that short stint with Fiji and even though he was on the All Blacks radar, he couldn’t be chosen because he played three minutes for Fiji.

“You can see the energy he brings to the Leinster team. If you watch closely when he speaks, you can see the attention of every player, they just zone in and listen. He says what they should do and sets a great example. He has just grown to another level from where he was with the Blues.

Joe Rokocoko Rokocoko played with Nacewa at the Blues. Source: Bryan Keane/INPHO

“Obviously, he had a bit of a rest [when he first retired in 2013] and came back and it was almost like he rebooted himself.

“It shows how much the club means to him. You think you’ve retired and he is coaching skills with the Blues and next thing your former club gives you a little SOS that they need you.

“It shows the character of the person. The club means so much to him, that’s why he is so highly respected, even from players on the outside. He will be a big part of how it goes this week.”

Nacewa and Leinster come into the final as firm favourites, with some bookmakers offering an 11-point margin.

Racing’s only other appearance at this stage of the competition ended in defeat to Saracens in 2016 and the French side feel that this task will be even tougher.

“Leinster bring a lot more,” said Rokocoko. “The hard thing is that despite doing your video analysis, they come up with different moves from the back pocket. They are such an intelligent team and they have great forwards.

“Saracens went for kicking strengths. Leinster have a lot more options – running options and they can change the game. They’ve got a lot of experienced international players in their group. For us, it’s going to be tough.”

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Murray Kinsella

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