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James Ryan's injury a big blow but Leinster have second row depth to cope

21-year-old Ryan Baird will be hoping for opportunities when rugby gets back underway.

FIRST THINGS FIRST, losing James Ryan for the remainder of the 2019/20 season is a clear and obvious blow for Leinster.

Already one of the leading players in his position in the sport, the 24-year-old is a key man for his province, offering an infectiously high work-rate in the carry and tackle, winning collisions with regularity, scrummaging at tighthead lock, securing Leinster’s lineouts [which he sometimes calls] and stealing opposition throws, as well as increasingly adding in moments of skill on the ball.

The province say he will be out of action for 10 to 12 weeks after surgery on his shoulder, meaning Ryan will definitely miss the remainder of the 2019/20 Pro14 campaign, which will involve four games if Leinster reach the final, as is widely expected.

james-ryan Ireland will hope to have Ryan back this autumn. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Ryan is also definitely out of the Champions Cup quarter-final against Saracens on 18/19/20 September and would be very likely to miss out on the European semi-finals and final if Leinster reach those. So losing a key player for the coming months is far from ideal.

Andy Farrell’s Ireland will to hope to have the relentless second row back in action for their busy autumn schedule, although he could be absent for their outstanding 2020 Six Nations fixtures against Italy and France, pencilled in for 24 October and 31 October but not yet officially confirmed.

Coming straight back into Test rugby without playing club rugby first is obviously a challenging thing to do – particularly given that Ryan would have last played a game of rugby in February – but he certainly has the quality and attitude to pull it off. 

It’s likely, however, that Ryan will be cognisant of not attempting to rush his recovery. The Lions tour next summer is a major target for all leading Test players and Ryan is obviously no different. Getting back to action without any hitches is important and there’s no doubt he will be well managed by Leinster and Ireland, perhaps playing in the Pro14 before jumping back into the international game.

The eastern province will be without an important player but Leo Cullen and Stuart Lancaster will have confidence in their squad depth.

Devin Toner, Scott Fardy, Ross Molony, Ryan Baird, and Jack Dunne provide strong second row options in the senior squad even without Ryan around for now.

Toner, who recently turned 34, responded to his World Cup omission last year in impressive fashion, earning a recall for the 2020 Six Nations after delivering consistently solid, level-headed performances for Leinster.

Fardy, who turned 36 last month, looks evergreen and also provides a strong option at blindside flanker for Leinster, while Molony had an excellent 2019/20 campaign in which he showed aggression in contact, good handling skill, lineout calling quality, and leadership.

scott-fardy-with-darcy-rae Fardy has been superb for Leinster in recent seasons. Source: Tom O'Hanlon/INPHO

Ryan’s injury could also mean far greater opportunity for the young guns.

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There is major excitement around 21-year-old Baird, whose hat-trick against Glasgow in Leinster’s last game before lockdown underlined his athletic qualities. An intelligent lineout forward with the mobility and change-up of a back row, Baird could even see his Ireland progress accelerated having been in camp earlier this year.

Meanwhile, 21-year-old Dunne has real potential too. A student of Theoretical Physics, the academy graduate is another clever second row and he also possesses the kind of size that makes him effective in all the tight exchanges involved in lock play.

Having only just returned from injury, the lockdown came at a frustrating time for ex-Ireland U20 international Dunne but he will be eager to take any chances that come his way with Ryan sidelined.

As for Ireland, Farrell would also be frustrated to be without a key figure if Ryan isn’t ready to feature in those rescheduled Six Nations games but one player’s misfortunate is another’s opportunity.

Iain Henderson was Ryan’s first-choice locking partner during this year’s championship but Toner was firmly in the mix too. Connacht’s Ultan Dillane also returned to the squad, offering his dynamism, while there are a handful of other locks who will be intent on muscling into the fray.

Munster’s Tadhg Beirne and Jean Kleyn had injuries that denied them the chance of Six Nations selection earlier this year but both are sure to figure in Farrell’s thinking, while Connacht’s Quinn Roux will also be part of the discussion when he returns to action in September, having had hand surgery recently.

Connacht’s 26-year-old Gavin Thornbury has previously trained with Ireland, while Ulster’s Kieran Treadwell was capped back in 2017, and Munster’s 22-year-old Fineen Wycherley has shown his potential in the red jersey.

ryan-baird Ryan Baird is a major prospect for Leinster and Ireland. Source: Gary Carr/INPHO

If Farrell is to use this autumn to look further into the future, then Baird will certainly be considered for exposure to Test rugby. Munster academy lock Thomas Ahern is highly-rated too but has yet to make a senior debut for his province.

Rugby hasn’t even returned yet in Ireland and we’ve already been reminded of the reality of injuries.

Leinster wing Adam Byrne – who would have hoped for an injury-free tilt at this campaign – is also out for three months due to a hamstring injury, while Ryan’s shoulder issue means the province have to rejig their plans for the months ahead. 

With less than three weeks until the provinces get back up and running at the Aviva Stadium on 22 and 23 August, all four of them will be hoping to avoid further bad luck in the injury department.

About the author:

Murray Kinsella

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