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Who should succeed Rory Best as Ireland captain?

Murray Kinsella sees James Ryan as a future Ireland skipper, but perhaps not one for the immediate future.

James Ryan, Peter O'Mahony and Johnny Sexton.
James Ryan, Peter O'Mahony and Johnny Sexton.
Image: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

THE DUST HASN’T yet settled following Ireland’s World Cup embarrassment at the fast hands and fleet feet of New Zealand, but new head coach Andy Farrell doesn’t have the luxury of wallowing for too long.

His charges begin their Six Nations campaign at home to Scotland in just 14 weeks’ time, and while that prospect alone might be a bit much for many to stomach at this current juncture, it won’t be long before the disaster of Japan is left firmly in the rear view.

It remains to be seen exactly how ‘new-look’ Farrell’s Ireland will be, but one certainty is that he’ll have a new captain following Rory Best’s retirement.

The consensus is that James Ryan, already a world-class operator and hugely influential, will lead Ireland into the next World Cup in 2023. There has already been a clamour within much of the online discourse following Ireland’s Tokyo defeat for Ryan to be appointed Best’s immediate successor in the spring, particularly considering most of Ireland’s core leaders under Joe Schmidt are unlikely to feature in France in four years’ time.

On today’s episode of Rugby Weekly ExtraThe42′s podcast exclusive to our members (you can join us here) — Murray Kinsella was asked half-jokingly by listener Eric Fitzgerald: “Who will the next Ireland captain be and why is it James Ryan?”

Murray, however, isn’t convinced that Ryan will be given the keys to the kingdom for next year’s Six Nations. Moreover, he isn’t convinced that Ryan should be named skipper at this juncture in his career, regardless of Ireland’s future plans.

Here’s a sneak peak at his Rugby Weekly Extra chat with host Gavan Casey about the issue of Irish captaincy, and where exactly he sees Ryan fitting into that conversation.

Murray Kinsella: “In terms of the captaincy, yeah, I think everyone’s looking at James Ryan now. He’s clearly someone who’s learned to lead teams, and whose personality — the enforcer personality — allows him to lead by example. He’s definitely still finding his voice at this very high level.

He’s been kind of included in some of the leadership meetings during this World Cup — that’s obviously a sign that they view him as a future captain or someone who can perform that role in the leadership group.

“And he’s obviously captained most of his teams through the age grades: Ireland U20s, his school teams, his Leinster underage teams…

I’d just voice a note of caution, as well. He’s 23. I think he’s already world-class and one of the best out there, but it would be putting a lot — a lot — of pressure onto his shoulders. He’s still definitely growing, there are still improvements to make. And you can see him growing — even when we talk to him in the media, every time we interview him he’s more comfortable, he’s more forthright, and you probably get a sense of, ‘Okay, this is what he’s actually like behind the scenes’. And I think his team-mates will say the same, that he’s gradually growing in that sense. But it’s a lot to take onto his shoulders. I know he’s a big personality, I know he’s probably capable, almost, to an extent, of doing it, particularly with other decent leaders around him, but I think Farrell will really think long and hard about burdening him with that.

“Now, it could obviously be a burden that he happily shoulders and it drives him on even to another level”, Murray continued, “but there are other good leaders in that squad. Obviously, Peter O’Mahony and Johnny Sexton are the two vice captains; you saw CJ Stander finishing out a few games — including the All Blacks game — with the captaincy. And he’s someone who’s been in that leadership group as well, so there clearly are contenders there.

“And I would just worry about Ireland rushing into it now. Even if you make Peter O’Mahony or Johnny Sexton your captain for the Six Nations campaign and decide maybe a little bit further down the line — maybe even a year down the line — I think there might be value in that.

Because particularly when Ireland need to bounce back and get good results in this Six Nations, the pressure’s going to be on from early on because there’s such dejection around Irish rugby. They’ve got to start well, and if it doesn’t start well and James Ryan is your new captain, I know people will immediately swing to the other extreme and say, ‘Why is this young lad our captain?’ and ‘This isn’t working’, and ‘Farrell’s a poor coach — he’s made bad decisions’.

“So, there’s definitely a balance there. I think he will end up being Ireland captain, but right now I think maybe give him another year to keep on growing and then see where he is at that stage.”

jonathan-sexton-james-ryan-and-peter-omahony Sexton, Ryan and O'Mahony will be the prime candidates to lead Ireland into the 2020 Six Nations. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

Gavan Casey: “Yeah, there’s surely a case to be made for even making Johnny Sexton captain for the first half of this upcoming World Cup cycle in the knowledge that unfortunately, time waits for no man — he’s not going to be at the next World Cup, he’s going to be 38-odd years of age.

“So if there’s a sort of a natural segway there, or a natural handover in the middle of a World Cup cycle, a 25-year-old James Ryan might be more than primed to take the figurative armband off Sexton — particularly given he’s going to be playing alongside Sexton at provincial level anyway. So that you could nearly transition from one captain to another in the middle of a cycle but without a momentous stripping of the captaincy from one of the more senior players — just that Sexton will probably be on his way out at a certain point anyway.”

Murray: “Yeah, definitely. And I can understand people saying, ‘Listen, if Ireland want to do better at a World Cup, they need to view it as a four-year cycle and start making those moves now’, and then when you come to a World Cup James Ryan is even more embedded in as a captain if that’s what his role is going to be. But I’d kind of agree with what you’re saying, there, yeah — particularly because the results are so important in the next year, in the next two years, and as we get back into those competitive games the World Cup is almost going to fade out of view a slight bit.

Now, there has to be, clearly, a little bit more planning and a long-term view if Ireland are going to get past a quarter-final finally, but I’m not sure if potentially damaging James Ryan’s development at this stage — or any of the other younger players who are going to be coming into the first team or whatever — with a view to making them better in four years’ time, I’m not sure if that is the [correct] long-term move.

Who do you think should succeed Rory Best as Ireland captain?


Poll Results:

Peter O'Mahony (3107)
James Ryan (2958)
Other initially, but James Ryan at a later date (1693)
Johnny Sexton (1174)
CJ Stander (755)
Other (491)






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