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Wednesday 20 November 2019

Ryan to rescue

Toner omission adds to lock's responsibility

Devin Toner comes on to replace James Ryan during last Saturday’s match against Wales in Cardiff
Devin Toner comes on to replace James Ryan during last Saturday’s match against Wales in Cardiff

It just seems like every time there is a problem, James Ryan is there to solve it.

The days are long gone when Ryan can get by, even excel, at just doing his job when he has so many of them to do.

England were given the green light through a tackle-free zone in Twickenham. Ireland defence coach Andy Farrell would have placed premium value on putting up a road block to turn Wales back in Cardiff.

In the 16th minute on Saturday, when Steff Evans threatened a counter, the long arms of Ryan got a grip on him, a tackle beyond the reach of most second rows.

One ruck later, Ryan rushed up with obvious intent, met Ryan Elias six metres behind the gain line and drove the hooker back another two, literally leading by example.

Just past the half-hour, second row Adam Beard tried his luck through the middle of a ruck.

The Welshman was man-handled for a loss of five metres, the collision forcing the ball free.

These were the physical statement moments that were lacking against England.

The calling of the lineout had been a disaster in London too, where Ireland couldn't take advantage of an extrsa leaper.

When asked which of his locks would call the crucial element of the set-piece in Wales, the response was non-committal from Schmidt.

Apparently, it was going to be consensus by committee, implying Iain Henderson, Ryan and Peter O'Mahony would have an input into the outcome.

As it happened, Ireland decided to go ultra-conservative, Niall Scannell firing to the front on all but one of his throws, losing that one to Aaron Shingler at a five-man lineout.

Rory Best's only lineout went straight to Ryan at number two in a prime attacking position eight metres from the Wales line.

The rehabilitation of this area is far from fixed, given how almost all balls were won at the front, from where they could do least damage.

This was an example, if ever there was one, of Ireland holding fire on their in-competition strategy.

Champion

It seemed to reinforce the importance of Toner to the Irish strategy, despite the low minutes played by the veteran.

Less than 48 hours later, the decision of Joe Schmidt to prefer Jean Kleyn, "a specialist tight-head," to Toner, "a lineout champion," have ramifications for Ryan.

The responsibility placed on the shoulders of the 23-year-old could just have increased. Once again.

Even the broadest beams have a breaking point when it all gets too much.

The second row has been doing 'a Paul O'Connell' on it for his country.

In recent years, the tight-head scrummagers weighing in between 112kilos and 115kilos at the highest level of the game can be counted on the thumbs of two hands - O'Connell and Ryan.

The void left with O'Connell's re tirement had been filled by Quinn Roux before Ryan stepped up to an onerous task.

The decision to take Kleyn to Japan will relieve the stamina-sapping duty on Ryan as an under-sized scrummager, at least whenever Kleyn plays.

In the final analysis, however, the pairing of Ryan and Henderson looks like the number one combination.

Come the first match of the World Cup against Scotland, Ryan could well be landed with the tight-head scrum role and that of the lineout caller.

The man is just about all things to all men - in green.

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