James Ryan prefers to let his actions speak louder than words
Ireland coach says Leinster lock’s work ethic and physique bode well for his future
Ireland lock James Ryan during his side’s victory against South Africa: the player starts his first Test match on Saturday against Argentina. Photograph: Oisin Keniry/Inpho
A fight broke out at Ireland training on Thursday. Spare Leinster heavies doing their best impression of Argentinian ogres.
“Training got a bit feisty,” smiled Iain Henderson. “But it was good. Couple of young guys in from Leinster’s Academy were in and they were riling boys up to high doe.
“A few boys rose and reacted, let’s say.”
There is method to every maddening act on the Carton paddock. Wonder who was behind it all? Wonder who was targeted? Wonder who Los Pumas will seek out?
“Young fellas these days are quite big,” observed Peter O’Mahony. “James has got that intelligent nous and, as Joe says, he gets stuck in when he is asked to.”
James Ryan is not a talker. Plenty doing it for him. Media duties aside, the relevant characteristics for an Ireland lock are visible in this stretched out 21-year-old, this established leader of men, this rare talent whose ability seems to rise above whatever standard he encounters.
On Saturday evening Ryan starts his first Test match.
See the second Ireland captain to ever beat New Zealand. See his instant impact last summer in New Jersey. See how the RDS purred in delight when he was parachuted into the Montpellier battle last month.
See the future now.
Ryan’s arrival is no surprise to anoraks who have watched him soar through the St Michael’s ranks.
“I first saw him play for Leinster under-16s so that is a fair way back,” said Schmidt of his early days in Dublin. “It was probably his athleticism and physicality for a lean kid playing a year level ahead of himself. Other kids were 16, he was 15, he did a couple of years at under-18 level as well so for engine room guys that’s a pretty good effort.
“That’s akin to Tadhg Furlong who played a couple of years at tighthead for the under-20s, that’s a pretty good, probably, platform to base yourself and your potential on.”
High, measured praise, before Schmidt dismantles the Maro Itoje comparison.
“I am not sure they would have the same athletic profile. The fact Maro Itoje plays six a lot and James is a pure secondrow. I think James is a little bit taller than Maro Itoje so that lineout extension is something that is important to us.
“I think James is just a kid really, so he will fill out and I think he is going to be a big engine room contributor for us in the future, at least that is what we are hoping will be the case,” Schmidt continued.
“It is hard to predict someone’s future but with the work ethic, intelligence, physique and commitment that he does have it is a very good starting platform that he has.”
On Sunday morning, Ryan will awake with four Ireland caps despite only five outings for Leinster. Brian O’Driscoll numbers. Schmidt seems to be accelerating the process.
“I don’t think you can ever really accelerate it,” he contests. “All you can do is try to best prepare them for what is coming up. His size is what it is, you can’t really accelerate that without I suppose putting too much stress on him.”
Growing pains are evident. Ryan has been injured as much as he’s been fit since moving into the senior ranks with last season ruined by a hamstring tear playing for UCD.
But the best crop in over a generation, who Ryan guided past New Zealand only to be swamped in the 2016 Junior World Cup final by England, are among us.
Max Deegan plays number eight for Leinster on Friday night, Andrew Porter is on the Leinster bench following last week’s first start against Fiji, Jacob Stockdale looked unstoppable against South Africa, and Ryan partners Henderson in what looks like the long-term Ireland secondrow.
Devin Toner should not be dismissed. After the Springboks game, arguably one of Toner’s best in a green jersey, he was asked about Henderson displacing him against England last March and Ryan’s inevitable arrival.
“They didn’t call him man child for nothing,” said Toner of Henderson. “Yeah, the quality is there now, I’m aware, but I’m not giving up without a fight.”