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'He's a ridiculous athlete' - Ryan excited by potential of Leinster team-mate Baird

Both seconds rows are part of Andy Farrell’s 35-man Ireland squad.

HE’S STILL ONLY 24 but James Ryan has very much moved beyond the ‘young gun’ category with Leinster and Ireland.

For both teams, Ryan is one of the first names onto the team sheet for the biggest games.

Indeed, Ryan is even beginning to take on the role of mentor as younger locks like 21-year-old pair Jack Dunne and Ryan Baird have broken through into Leinster’s senior squad, with the latter also now part of Andy Farrell’s Ireland squad.

james-ryan Ryan was in superb form last weekend for Leinster. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

“I do feel slightly older,” says Ryan, whose restart post-lockdown was delayed by a dislocated shoulder he suffered during pre-season training. 

“The young guys coming through, you’ve got to pass on a bit of what you’ve been taught.

“Guys like say Dev [Toner], who I’ve learned a huge amount from, I have to be able to pass on that knowledge and info to Bairdo, along with Dev, Fards, Ross Molony, and all these guys. It is evolving in a way.”

Baird is a coming force in Irish rugby. He has already shown his prodigious potential for Leinster and looks likely to make his Test debut this autumn after being formally called up by Farrell.

The Ireland boss brought Baird into camp earlier this year as a ‘development player’ to gain experience of the environment but this time, the young Leinster man is a genuine option for selection for the clash with Italy on 24 October.

“He’s some athlete,” says Ryan of the man he partners in Leinster’s starting second row for the first time against Benetton in the Pro14 today [KO 5.15pm Irish time, eir Sport].

“He’s 6ft 6ins and he runs between nine and 10 metres per second, so he’s a ridiculous athlete really.

“Across the lock positions, we’re really well stocked and they all bring something different. Fards is really vocal, brings a lot of energy and experience.

“Ross Molony is a super smart player, his lineout acumen is similar to Dev in that area. Ryan coming through now, so we’ve got good variety there across the board.”

ryan-baird Baird is set for his Ireland debut this autumn. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

This promises to be a fascinating autumn for Farrell’s Ireland, with six uncapped players in his 35-man group as some experienced figures miss out through injury. 

With the two rescheduled Six Nations games followed by four Tests in the Autumn Nations Cup, Ryan is looking forward to “a pretty mad schedule which is exciting for any player in the country.”

Ireland’s most recent outing was the disappointing defeat to England in Twickenham, which Ryan says they reviewed in depth at the time and likely won’t dwell on when they return to camp next week.

Some commentators have been quick to draw comparisons between that third consecutive defeat to England with Leinster’s two defeats to Saracens on either end of their 25-game winning streak. There has been a suggestion that Irish teams can’t live with English sides’ physicality but Ryan is quick to dismiss that notion.

“It’s not a concern for us or for me, to be honest,” says Ryan. “I don’t think there’s a trend. I think we’ve had big wins against Saracens and England. Look at the season we had in 2018, it’s a lot of the same personnel.

“Massive respect for the two sides, they’re world-class, but I still think that when we’re at our best, we can match anybody.

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“What probably let us down in that Saracens game recently was our set-piece. It just reinforces the importance to us of the set-piece at the really top level.

james-ryan-dejected-after-the-game Ryan at Twickenham earlier this year. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

“So I think us, as a forward pack, we’ve got to take hold of that, own it and move forward. I think we have, we’ve taken on the lessons.”

England v Ireland in Twickenham on 21 November will tell us more, but Ryan’s immediate focus today is on helping Leinster to win away to Benetton in the Pro14 before he and 19 of his provincial team-mates head into Ireland camp.

“I think my last away game for Leinster was in Treviso as well,” says Ryan. “Benetton are a huge physical side, so it’s another opportunity.”

Benetton:

15. Jayden Hayward
14. Ratuva Tavuyara
13. Luca Morisi
12. Marco Zanon
11. Monty Ioane
10. Paolo Garbisi
9. Dewaldt Duvenage (captain)

1. Cherif Traore
2. Hame Faiva
3. Tiziano Pasquali
4. Irne Herbst
5. Eli Snyman
6. Sebastian Negri
7. Abraham Steyn
8. Toa Halafihi

Replacements:

16. Gianmarco Lucchesi
17. Nicola Quaglio
18. Simone Ferrari
19. Niccolò Cannone
20. Federico Ruzza
21. Giovanni Pettinelli
22. Callum Braley
23. Edoardo Padovani

Leinster:

15. Hugo Keenan
14. Jordan Larmour
13. Garry Ringrose (captain)
12. Robbie Henshaw
11. James Lowe
10. Ross Byrne
9. Jamison Gibson-Park

1. Ed Byrne
2. James Tracy
3. Michael Bent
4. Ryan Baird
5. James Ryan
6. Caelan Doris
7. Will Connors
8. Jack Conan

Replacements:

16. Seán Cronin
17. Cian Healy
18. Tom Clarkson
19. Ross Molony
20. Rhys Ruddock 
21. Luke McGrath
22. Harry Byrne
23. Jimmy O’Brien

Referee: Ben Whitehouse [WRU].

About the author:

Murray Kinsella

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