James Ryan and Ireland well aware of what England will bring at Twickenham

Secondrow looking forward to pitting his wits against England talisman Maro Itoje

New England, old England, it never varies from big England. James Ryan should know, having played them three times, winning one and losing two. Twickenham inflates England but Ryan is having none of the verbal hors d'oeuvres pre-match.

Eddie Jones and his thrust that Ireland are the 'most cohesive' team around, and claims that they are also offside or off their feet the abrasive and colourful addition.

“I wouldn’t read it anyway or what they’re saying. I haven’t read it. So I wouldn’t be paying attention to it,” says Ryan. “In terms of us, I’m not really paying any attention to anything they’re saying.”

Ryan, who was injured for Ireland's match against Italy, is disinterested in how the Irish side are profiled as breakdown bandits. More on his mind, and even that is overstating it, is Maro Itoje, the England secondrow, perhaps the only player who does not want to be England captain.


Itoje has always stood apart for other reasons. But Ryan has seen him close enough with England and Saracens to differentiate the rugby man from the rugby myth.

It’s one of the head to heads that will be a point of difference given how much importance England place on their pack dominance and Itoje’s gifts of stealing ball and disrupting lineouts.

“I don’t know him personally,” says Ryan. “Yeah, a great player. He is very fast off the mark. He plays on the edge and he’s a serious operator. Even with the lineout stuff it’s hard to know where he’s going to go.

“Usually when you look at the lineout you might look at somebody’s body language say and that kind of gives you an indication of where the space is or what the right call is, whereas he kind of mixes up his body language quite a bit. He’s a bit harder to predict. These are all strengths to his game. I always enjoy going up against him.”

Just how Ireland will match England mite is a concern only outside of the group. In the first half against France, Ireland were schooled in pace and ferocity. While it was bruising, the second half saw order restored.

The decision to go for the posts rather than kick for touch late in the second half and back themselves for seven points, that’s history, the half life of making on-pitch decisions under pressure no more than a blink. On such matters Ryan has taken advice from Johnny Sexton.

“Look, we made the decision, we kinda moved on,” he says. “As Johnny [Sexton] said to me many times before, whatever decision you make, you have to make the most out of it. You make the decision and then you’ve got to make it right.

“Often these things can be very outcome-based, but yeah, you back your feel, you back what you think is right. You can only make the right decision that you think and then you go with it. That’s it really.”

On that, Ryan is right. Double guessing without any effective way of changing the outcome is a mug’s game in sport. And decision making is like anything else, you get better at it with experience.

In the dying seconds against France in 2018 with the rain lashing and Sexton from way out in another parish drop kicking the winner. Decision correctness is usually based on the outcome. Three feet one way and Sexton’s boot would have been the wrong call.

“I didn’t feel a massive weight on my shoulders,” he says. “We came back into the game. I felt fine. We went with what we thought was the right call.”

That’s the way this England game is going to be, mentally tough and by the end players physically hollowed out. There will be similar calls and decisions made for points or position, with Ireland’s lineout and maul challenged as often as the breakdown battles.

In that Ryan is centrally involved and again it comes around to the player in the England shirt with the same number as the Irish lock.

“Set-piece is huge, how accurate we can be with our lineout in terms of our strike plays,” says Ryan. “They’ve got individuals that really like to disrupt the set-piece and we’ve got to be really accurate there.

“For us, it’s not making assumptions. Paulie [O’Connell] would drive the ‘targeting’ message, so targeting bodies and almost ignoring the ball and targeting the threat. That’s big for us.

“Another area would be around ending the contest before the tackle is finished, so winning the race, getting in there nice and early, and if we do that, we can play on top of teams and play early to space.”

Old Ireland, new Ireland and maybe cohesive Ireland too.

Johnny Watterson

Johnny Watterson

Johnny Watterson is a sports writer with The Irish Times