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Ryan's ready to slay Dragons

NEVER judge a book by its cover, so they say.

Ireland second row Donnacha Ryan presents the traditional physical image of your proper dyed-in-the-wool meathead, an engine room forward who would rather shovel coal than think about it.

This assumption would be the mother of all mistakes to make about a genuinely intelligent man still working at being Ireland's lock.

"It is one thing being in the shirt; it is another thing being successful in the shirt. That's what we've got to go and do," said the Nenagh man.

Ryan was thrown into international combat for the first time against those troublesome Pumas in the November of 2008. There was no Six Nations for him. His next caps came the following summer against Canada and the United States. The message was clear: he was serving an apprenticeship.

There was a time when he had to have the patience of a poker player as he stood in line behind Paul O'Connell, Donncha O'Callaghan and Mick O'Driscoll at Munster.

O'Driscoll has moved on to the rugby afterlife. O'Connell is out of action, hopeful to return at a time uncertain. Ryan has got the jump on O'Callaghan for club and country.

Suddenly, the weight of Munster's world has fallen squarely on 29-year-old Ryan's shoulders.

It could be a burden too heavy to carry. "Every time you play an international game, for me anyway, is a massive game," he said.

"I find, I suppose, you are under scrutiny because of the players that have gone before you," he said.

"You kind of feel every game is a big game. There is an onus on you to perform. And I love that pressure, to be honest."

There is the mantra that you have to practise like you play. This is not quite the case in rugby.

But there was evidence of the commitment to training as he gripped an ice pack to the side of his leg.


"Prevention is better than a cure. We had a mauling session this morning and we just got stuck in. It wasn't too bad. It was just awkward, really."

The expected game-plan of Wales to keep the ball in play will test the aerobic fitness of the Irish forwards.

This should suit the former blindside flanker.

"For me, I don't really mind. I come from the school of going from second row to back row and realised what second rows actually think about," he said. "I have an awareness that the lineout is a part of the game. As far as I am concerned, it is what happens between the lines that is more important.

"We have fantastic players with a high skill level as well. Yeah, I think we are well capable of mixing it in broken play."

Ryan was dismissive of Wales' ragged run of seven straight defeats, the last four at home in the magnificent Millennium Stadium.

"The calibre of opposition they played against in the last number of games has been pretty good. I know Warren Gatland isn't there. (Shaun) Edwards and (Rob) Howley are top-class coaches.

"They are Six Nations champions. What has happened before, I don't think really matters.

"They are a really good team and they proved that last year."