James Ryan ready to embrace captain’s role against Argentina

Secondrow eager for Ireland to avoid an All Blacks comedown in final Autumn Test

As he prepares to lead Ireland for a fifth time when they conclude their Autumn Series against Argentina next Sunday (kick-off 2.15pm) James Ryan has admitted that the honour weighs a little less heavily on him now than when he was first handed the role.

His first outing as captain was a difficult afternoon at Twickenham in the Autumn Nations Cup last November, when Ireland were beaten 18-7, before he led the side to a less than memorable win over Georgia at home a week later. It did indeed seem less of a load when he led Ireland in the two summer tests against Japan and the USA.

“Initially it did feel like a bit of a weight on my shoulders in some ways when I started. It was hard not to feel a bit like that.” the 25-year-old admitted on Wednesday when taking over the captain’s media briefing from Johnny Sexton.

“But I don’t feel that same way anymore. I feel it doesn’t actually change a whole lot for me through the week. We’ve got a number of guys who are very good in a leadership capacity as well and the advice Faz (Andy Farrell) gave me when I was first captain was to be myself and to focus on my own game. That’s probably the best piece of advice I could have gotten. That’s the way I try to operate whenever I’m given the honour of captain.”


His leadership style is somewhat different from Sexton, who has been sidelined for four to six weeks with the twisted knee and ankle which he sustained in leading Ireland to last Saturday’s 29-20 win over New Zealand. Ryan is happy with that. He’s not Sexton and isn’t going to try to be him.

“I’m not too interested in giving a lad a bollocking or any of that stuff. I’m captain this week but to be honest it doesn’t change a whole lot for me. I just want to get my own performance right. I think that’s the best way for me to lead anyway, and there are plenty of guys there that can drive all those things alongside me.”

Ryan has spoken previously about the difference in the squad when Sexton is there, but the way he sees it, this week will be a cumulative effort in making up for Sexton’s absence.

“When he’s in it’s absolutely brilliant but when he’s not there everyone’s got to step up and we’ve got to find our own voices and not be relying on him either, because any opportunity you get to play for Ireland, you shouldn’t need any extra motivation.”

Ryan played the full 80 against both Japan and New Zealand, and is one of those in line to start three ests on successive weekends, a relative rarity which doesn’t even happen in the Six Nations.

“It was definitely the sorest I’ve been in a long time, which is probably what you’d expect coming up against New Zealand,” he said in reference to last weekend’s game, and welcomed the eight-day turnaround.

A big performer in both the Irish attacking and defensive lineout last week, Ryan has also looked back to his best after a difficult second half to last season which saw him miss the Six Nations games against both France and England with separate concussion issues.

“I’m enjoying it at the moment. It’s nice having a decent run of games and I feel like I have a little bit of confidence back and come through injury free. So I’m enjoying it.

“This whole window has been brilliant for us. Everyone has performed very well but everyone is enjoying it as well. There’s no reason why this can’t be our best performance yet if we’re focused and we’re honest with each other.”


In that he acknowledges there is a different mentality to this match.

“It’s probably a bit easier when you are the underdog. That probably did suit Irish teams in the past but we have to be able to perform when we’re not always the underdog. We want to be at the top consistently so this week is the first opportunity for that.”

Argentina have also regrouped impressively after a difficult 2021 spent entirely away from home and featuring a winless Rugby Championship. After pushing France all the way in the Stade de France last Saturday week, they brushed Italy aside by 37-16 last Saturday in Treviso.

“They pose another proper challenge,” admitted Ryan. “They’re very strong up front, for us as a forward pack. They carry very hard. (Julian) Montoya, their hooker, is as good a player as you’ll find probably in world rugby over the ball. I don’t know how many turnovers he’s had this year but it’s ridiculous.

“They’ve a very strong driving game. Their maul has been a strength for them in the Rugby Championship and during this November window as well. So it’s a great test for us as forwards.

“Their backline is very strong as well. They are well able to attack and they have a good kicking game. The likes of (Emiliano) Bofelli are incredibly good in the air so that will be important too. Across the board it is a big one so we are looking forward to another big test, like they all are.”

Ryan, who will win his 40th cap on Sunday, also took the opportunity to extend his squad’s best wishes to his counterpart on the women’s team Ciara Griffin, who is retiring after her 41st and last Test against Japan at the RDS on Saturday.

Gerry Thornley

Gerry Thornley

Gerry Thornley is Rugby Correspondent of The Irish Times