James Ryan hoping to reignite partnership with Iain Henderson

Plenty of competition in lock position with the likes of Ryan Baird coming through

Ireland’s James Ryan is looking forward to partnering Iain Henderson again. Photo: Ryan Bailey/IRFU

Ireland’s James Ryan is looking forward to partnering Iain Henderson again. Photo: Ryan Bailey/IRFU

 

One of the more encouraging aspects of Ireland’s selection in Rome last time out was that James Ryan and Iain Henderson were re-united in the Irish engine room and, touch wood, will be again in Murrayfield for Sunday’s 2021 Guinness Six Nations game against Scotland.

Henderson, then 25, partnered the 21-year-old Ryan in the second-row on the latter’s full Test debut in the 28-19 win over Argentina in November 2017. With Ryan’s unrelenting accuracy in all he does allied to Henderson’s horse power and athleticism, this dynamic combination seemed set to become one of the bedrocks of the Irish team for years to come, and they have the ability and age profile (now 29 and 24) for that still to be the case.

Yet, of Ireland’s last 39 Tests since that autumnal win over the Pumas in 2017, last Saturday week in Rome was only the 17th time Ryan and Henderson have started a game together (14 wins and three losses).

For one reason or another, mostly injuries to Henderson, they have never really had an extended run in the team together. Each time when seemingly set to do so, something untoward has cropped up, like Henderson’s three-week ban following the first red card of his career last autumn which ruled him out of Ireland’s two re-arranged Six Nations games against Italy and France.

Then, when picked together at the start of the Autumn Nations’ Cup against Wales, Henderson was withdrawn on the morning of the game with a medical issue, whereupon he picked up a knee injury in the third-place playoff win over Scotland. That sidelined him for two months, before his comeback off the bench in the Six Nations opener away to Wales before Ryan was ruled out of the defeat by France.

Ryan has started five times against Scotland, and been on the winning side each time. The last three occasions have been in tandem with Henderson, beginning with the World Cup pool win in Yokohama when Ryan was one of Ireland’s try scorers. Not that this matters much come 3pm on Sunday.

“It probably doesn’t count for a whole lot to be honest,” says Ryan. “Every time you play a Test match it’s another opportunity, it’s another game. So once the game starts how you fared against them in the past probably doesn’t count for a whole lot. It’s a new game.

“I always think Scotland at Murrayfield is also a different challenge. Obviously there’ll be no fans there but it’s still a different challenge than it would be playing in the Aviva.”

Despite the repeated interruptions, Ryan and Henderson have built up a strong friendship as well as partnership.

“I’ve a great relationship with him,” said Ryan today. “I think I get along with Hendy as well as anyone in here. So we’re good mates first and foremost.

“I enjoy playing with him. I think he’s a very smart player. I think he brings real leadership as well, he is obviously club captain up in Ulster and he’s a very good lineout operator as well.

“At his best, he’s such a destructive force and you love playing with somebody like that alongside you in the second row. It’s a privilege to play with him when I get the chance.”

Similar personalities?

“I’d say we’re similar enough in some ways. I’d say we’re both quite curious about stuff. Yeah similar enough in a lot of ways. We definitely have a similar sense of humour. Similar interests as well, we both love food, we love dogs, he likes a bit of history as well. We get along well.”

Of course, coming up hard on their heels is Ryan Baird, the 21-year-old who made his debut off the bench in Rome as a 63rd minute replacement for Henderson. Like Ryan, he is another from the extraordinary St Michael’s production line of locks, and Ryan has had more reason still to watch the progress of his young pretender as his brother David captained the St Michael’s team that were three years behind his own.

“He was always one of those players that stood out very clearly from an early age. He’s continued in that manner,” says Ryan of Baird, as it were.

“He’s just unbelievably athletic, so quick and powerful and talented so it’s brilliant to have him on board. I think the second row is an area where there is really a lot of depth now in the team. Obviously you mentioned Hendy, Ryan and Tadgh Beirne can play there, obviously Quinn Roux, Ultan Dillane who has had a great season as well. There is a number of players who can play there which is great.”

They also have the finest lock Ireland has ever produced now coaching them, and Paul O’Connell’s decision to accept Andy Farrell’s offer to become Ireland’s forwards coach before this Six Nations must have been made easier by having such talent to work with.

The lineout, along with the maul, scrum and breakdown work, has quickly become a source of reliability again,

“I wouldn’t say there has been a massive change to the nuts and bolts of our lineout,” says Ryan. “I think what he (O’Connell) has introduced is little small intricacies and just levels of detail that really make a difference at this level, which has been great, because I think the set-piece has been an area of our game that’s been a real positive for us so far in this campaign between our scrum and lineout, and we know how important that is at this level.

“So that’s definitely been one real positive we’re taking. It’s an area that we felt, looking back on the autumn, that could have been a bit stronger. So we’re in a good place with that now.”

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
GO BACK
Error Image
The account details entered are not currently associated with an Irish Times subscription. Please subscribe to sign in to comment.
Comment Sign In

Forgot password?
The Irish Times Logo
Thank you
You should receive instructions for resetting your password. When you have reset your password, you can Sign In.
The Irish Times Logo
Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.
Screen Name Selection

Hello

Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
Forgot Password
Please enter your email address so we can send you a link to reset your password.

Sign In

Your Comments
We reserve the right to remove any content at any time from this Community, including without limitation if it violates the Community Standards. We ask that you report content that you in good faith believe violates the above rules by clicking the Flag link next to the offending comment or by filling out this form. New comments are only accepted for 3 days from the date of publication.