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Ryan backs Leinster teammate O’Brien to show his claws against Tipuric

The flanker hit the 50-cap mark for his province last weekend and hopes to make it 51 against Ospreys.

Manu in the middle: Tuilagi separates Sean O'Brien and Justin Tipuric (right) in the Lions line-up.
Manu in the middle: Tuilagi separates Sean O'Brien and Justin Tipuric (right) in the Lions line-up.
Image: INPHO/Dan Sheridan

DOMINIC RYAN MADE an auspicious appearance for Leinster in an inauspicious defeat to Munster last weekend. The flanker came off the bench for provincial cap number 50 but he could not turn a winning start against Munster into a streak.

That start was in October 2010, when the Blues triumphed 13 — 9. Ryan was 20-years-old and fearless. He made 23 appearances for Leinster that season and scored two tries in the 43 — 20 Heineken Cup pool win over Saracens.

Ryan’s back-row partner, Sean O’Brien came of age that season and, playing primarily at blindside, was instrumental in Leinster’s second Heineken Cup trophy triumph. O’Brien was named ERC Player of the Year and kicked on, starring in the 2011 World Cup.

Ryan was eager to follow in his footsteps but injury intervened enough to be called a bad habit. He told TheScore.ie, “Crossing the 50-cap milestone was big for me. I had about 30 caps in two seasons, when I was on the developmental contract, and I’ve only managed to play 20 times in the past three seasons.”

Ryan has two appearances this season and scored a try against Leinster in his first outing, against Cardiff Blues. He started that match, at the RDS, at openside but insists he is more than happy to cover any of the three positions at the back of the pack. With players such as O’Brien, Shane Jennings and Jamie Heaslip on Leinter’s books, the open mind is beneficial. However, he added:

I prefer 7. You’re more in the game at 7. You’re in first at the breakdown or around the corner to make tackles. 6 often has to hold his position.”

Openside requires an organisational mind and a strong set of lungs. Having the RDS’ one-man tannoy, in Shane Jennings, on the scene is a daily reminder of the strengths he needs to bring to the job. “Whenever I’m on for Jenno,” he said, “I’m told ‘keep up the talk, keep up the talk’. It’s a big part of the game and you’re crucial for communicating with the backline. It’s good to have players of the quality of Jenno ahead of you.”

imageDominic Ryan runs into a red-brick wall against Munster. INPHO/Billy Stickland

If Ryan is determined to make the 7 jersey his own he may have to usurp a player, in O’Brien, that is anything but a conventional openside. He declared, “I think Sean is probably a better 6 than a 7. In the Irish team, he plays 6 in attack and 7 off the scrums. He does a lot of ball-carrying and, on the second phase, he is around the corner attacking.

What he can do compared to some others at the breakdown may not be as superior and he may not tackle as much as someone like Dan Lydiate but nobody can match him when it comes to attacks. When I was coming up, the idea was to study the likes of Richie McCaw or David Pocock but I quickly realised that we had one of the best back-rows in the world training, and playing, with us every day.”

Ryan added, “[Sean] was unfortunate at the start of the Lions Tour as Sam Warburton was captain and there was no shifting him [from openside]. Eventually, [the coaches] realised they had to have Sean O’Brien in there and he did well in the final Tests.”

Another jilted Lion that got his Test chance late in the piece was Ospreys’ dynamo Justin Tipuric. Perhaps the most unfortunate of all the travelling Lions — as he was playing well in the warm-ups and was not in the captain’s blazer — Tipuric managed to shunt Warburton out of the openside role when Wales captured the Six Nations earlier this year.

“I played U20s against Tipuric and he has been a serious operator for as long as I’ve known him,” said Ryan. “For Warburton not to get his into his desired position shows you how good a player Tipuric is. Alongside Joe Bearman, who is athletic and skilful, the Ospreys have two guys in the bacxk row that can do a lot of damage.”

imageSean O’Brien (left) runs in support of Justin Tipuric during the Lions’ match against Combined Country XV in June. INPHO/Dan Sheridan

Ryan is backing O’Brien to make his presence felt against the Welsh side at the Liberty Stadium this weekend. Talk over possible French moves for the Tullow Tank, and Jamie Heaslip, have affected the squad less, he said, than the nature of their Pro12 defeat to Munster.

Ryan explained, “There is small talk [about moves] and curiosity but I wouldn’t say it is distracting. Individually, contract talks can be very stressful but these things take time. It is not something that would affect the squad, as a whole.”

He added, “Jono [Gibbes] always says to us that Monday to Friday matters unbelievably. It is more than just turning up on the Saturday… maybe the feeling was that we weren’t up to scratch [midweek] and that shone through in the game.”

Strong words and a decent, Monday training session, he believes, have put Leinster on the right track for their Heineken Cup opener. It has been a long time since Ryan featured in the Heineken Cup for Leinster but he is determined to use cap 51, if it comes, to show Blues fans what they have been missing.

Ryan is backing a fund-raising entrepreneurial project, called 100 Minds, which aims to raise €100,000 for Temple Street Children’s Hospital. For information on getting involved, visit 100minds.org

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Patrick McCarry

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