Thursday 21 February 2019

Leinster's Ryan has finally landed

Lock on track for Ireland in November

Leinster’s James Ryan is tackled by Montpellier’s Jacques Du Plessis (left) and Kelian Galletier during last Saturday’s Champions Cup Pool 3 Round 1 match at the RDS
Leinster’s James Ryan is tackled by Montpellier’s Jacques Du Plessis (left) and Kelian Galletier during last Saturday’s Champions Cup Pool 3 Round 1 match at the RDS

"Take your parachute and jump, you're gonna' have to take flight." - Something Happens

Tom Dunne's lyric from his band's 1990 hit song should have been channelled through James Ryan's headphones, if he wore any, as Montpellier loomed large at The RDS last Saturday.

It is one thing to be parachuted in behind enemy lines to complete a top-secret mission.

It is quite another to be dropped in front of 16,000 Leinster supporters and a hulking enemy, right into the line of fire of gargantuan men like Jacques du Plessis.

There was nowhere to run to, other than straight into the belly of the beast, and nowhere to hide from what coach Leo Cullen nominated as the biggest team in the world.

Leinster's main summer signing Scott Fardy had been re-routed to be at the side of his wife Penelope when she went into labour to give birth to baby boy August on Saturday, leaving Cullen with a decision to make.

It brought to mind two previous occasions on which men were introduced late in the day to contrasting fortune and reaction.


When number eight Jamie Heaslip pulled up lame, Ireland coach Joe Schmidt had to call on Peter O'Mahony five minutes before the start of a Six Nations match last March.

The flanker went on to be Man of the Match by destroying England's revered Saracens-led lineout.

From there, he was granted British & Irish Lions status by Warren Gatland and kicked-on to captain The Lions into the first test against the world champion All Blacks.

Michael Bent had just landed in Dublin when he was brought out to Carton House and handed an Ireland shirt due to a crisis in prop options.

There were 11 minutes against South Africa on November 10, 2012 amid much rancour, Bent taking his Leinster bow three weeks later against Zebre.

Since then, the tight-head has been an under-rated piece of the furniture at Leinster, closing out Montpellier on Saturday with a 76th minute scrum penalty.

You can only imagine the disappointment of Ross Molony when Ryan landed in from outside the squad of 23 to start beside Devin Toner.

"That's what we had prepped during the week as well," said Cullen.

"It's just a combination of things. James had done a lot of Scott's roles during the week.

"Ross and Dev' are quite similar as players, so you need that bit of a contrast.

"Ross had done a lot of the calling role, obviously he steps in if he needs to at the end there as well because it's James' first game back in a few weeks as well."

It was a judgement call that bore fruit.

Ryan ranked as high as third on the tackle charts for the 64 minutes he lasted.


He had the highest tally of tackles made out of just four players who missed none, making 15 against Toner's next best 14.

He was also listed as the only forward to make a clean break, careering on in the second-half, and matched Jack Conan up front in beating two defenders.

"I thought he was very strong in contact James," reviewed Cullen.

"He's a good athlete, has a good engine."

The impressive 21-year-old has already mastered the art of tackling low, no mean feat for a tall man standing 6'7".

"It's tough trying to take down a lot of those big guys, but I thought he did well," continued Cullen.

"Scott has a tonne of experience and it's hard to replace that.

"But, James has got his first taste of European rugby which is great to get through.

"I thought he acquitted himself really, really well."

Ryan stands apart as a super-focussed man of tunnel-vision, when it comes to rugby, with his mind-set on leaving nothing to chance.

Don't forget Joe Schmidt awarded Ryan his international debut in the summer before he had taken one step in a Leinster shirt.

A Grade-3 hamstring struck last November to wipe out the rest of last season for his province.

He had just 100 minutes of PRO14 rugby in his legs from the last quarter against The Dragons and the full 80 against Southern Kings when parachuted into the Champions Cup.

The eagle has indeed finally landed.

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