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Tuesday 19 November 2019

Schmidt pinning hopes on the lock of the Irish

Ireland's best carriers Ryan and Stander have to win the gain line to deny Wales Grand Slam

TRAIN GANG: James Ryan and Dave Kilcoyne during the captain’s run at Cardiff’s Principality Stadium Pic: Sportsfile
TRAIN GANG: James Ryan and Dave Kilcoyne during the captain’s run at Cardiff’s Principality Stadium Pic: Sportsfile

When Joe Schmidt announces Ireland's team, he is always accompanied by a senior international.

For England, it was Tadhg Furlong, the 26-year-old Lions Test tight-head in 2017, generally perceived as the best No 3 in the world.

For Italy, it was 28-year-old Conor Murray, the Lions Test scrum-half in 2017, generally perceived as the best in the world, current form notwithstanding.

For Scotland, it was 32-year-old Rob Kearney, Lions Test starter in 2009 and Ireland's first-choice full-back for the last 12 seasons.

For France, it was 29-year-old Peter O'Mahony, Lions captain in the first Test in 2017, generally perceived as Rory Best's second-in-command and Ireland's next captain.

For Wales, it was 22-year-old James Ryan, Ireland's second row of 16 international caps.

Profound

It was a statement without words, a quiet and profound indication of how Schmidt views the world-leading lock.

Ryan rarely comes to work without his game face on and it was no different on Thursday.

He is one serious man with a serious attitude to the game he loves, dissects and devours.

It says everything that Schmidt has entrusted the responsibility of calling the lineout to a man who has done it just twice for Leinster.

It is more true of Ireland than any of the other elite international nations that they need to win the gain line to win the game.

In the recent past under Schmidt, they have struggled when they have been matched or bettered in the physicality department.

There was Scotland at Murrayfield in 2017. There was the All Blacks in Dublin in 2016. There was England at the Aviva last month.

This is down to the brutal style of rugby predicated on going through the phases until a weak point can be exposed.

Schmidt pointed to Ryan as an action man, not interested in talking when he is busy doing.

In this championship alone, Ryan has carried the ball 50 times, good enough for the third-highest among all players in the Six Nations.

More significantly, the only men ahead of him are number eights Billy Vunipola (57) and Braam Steyn (53) with not another second row in the top 15.

Take away the numbers generated by simply taking away the picks from the base of scrums and Ryan would be out in front.

This comes off the back of playing 240 minutes in three of Ireland's four matches.

In addition, Ryan has averaged out 13 tackles per game from his three outings, completing a coveted double-double in all three with double-digit carries and tackles in each.

The only other to stand comparison is CJ Stander (left), topping out at 34 carries and 26 tackles in two games. He was denied a shot at Italy and Scotland due to the broken face suffered early into the England match.

Schmidt alluded to the cumulative impact of Ryan and Stander in taking Ireland beyond the gain line.

The contrast comes from Stander's outgoing personality as a big vocal leader in a forward pack that could do with more of them.

"You know he and James usually are the contenders for the most involved player in any given test match.

"If you add up the number of tackles that they have, the number of ball-carries, the number of clean-outs, the number of particularly physical involvements, those two are always in a little bit of a tight contest."

Ireland will need both of them at their best to best Wales.

Wales: L Williams; G North, J Davies, H Parkes, J Adams; G Anscombe, G Davies; R Evans, K Owens, T Francis, A Beard, AW Jones (capt), J Navidi, J Tipuric, R Moriarty. Reps: E Dee, N Smith, D Lewis, J Ball, A Wainwright; A Davies, D Biggar, O Watkin.

Ireland: R Kearney; K Earls, G Ringrose, B Aki, J Stockdale; J Sexton, C Murray; C Healy, R Best (capt), T Furlong, T Beirne, J Ryan, P O'Mahony, S O'Brien, CJ Stander. Reps: N Scannell, D Kilcoyne, A Porter, Q Roux, J Conan; K Marmion, J Carty, J Larmour.

VERDICT: Wales

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