James Ryan, whose grandfather was one of the founders of the Irish state, still comes across as heroic.
But this week there is more than a glint of Macbeth in his eyes emanating from the RWC2019 mayhem in Shizuoka when Ireland lost to Japan.
Trying to erase what he saw as a red stain, he applied for and got the captain’s job when Ireland faced the Brave Blossoms last summer.
And he raises his hand to play against Japan again next Saturday (November 6) – damn place!
Looking back angrily
The point is, there aren’t many people who would blame the Dubliner for the World Cup debacle.
Given that the second row made 17 tackles and only missed one, he was a defensive rock with only Josh van der Flier on the open side wanting more.
Ryan has also completed 15 runs (more than any Irish player) over 21 yards (more than any other Irish striker); there were few accusing fingers pointed at him at the time.
Rather the ones that missed tackles, the four from Garry Ringrose, the three from Jack Carty, the two from Conor Murray / Keith Earl each were costly.
While Cian Healy’s front row, Rory Best and Tadhg Furlong combined three yards of carry were also well below par.
Those stats, seen two years later, don’t seem comforting for the six-foot-seven, nearly eighteen-stone Ryan.
And looking back angrily, he wants next Saturday’s game to be a lot more cohesive, he wants to win big and as in-yer-face and humiliating as possible.
“The one from 2019 is probably one of the toughest games I’ve ever played,” he says moodily. “The summer again, it was very hard but at least we won (39-31).
“Defensively, it’s always difficult against the Japanese because it’s all about speed.
“It’s a danger if you’re careless and your ball control is poor, it’s a team that thrives on that access, they’re deadly in terms of turnover and loose kicks. life.
“It’s about making sure our unstructured attack is good, but it’s also about being precise because we don’t want to give them lines in the game.
“They’re kind of trying to deny that because of how fast their game is and that kind of brand is fine with them because they’re a little smaller compared to some teams, but they’re definitely up there so we’ll see how we do. let’s get out of it. “
A difficult ordeal
Therefore, Ryan is pissed off by those who suggest Japan is the last chance of November’s three games.
“Probably look at the 2019 World Cup, the upheaval caused by Japan, they even ran the Boks pretty close for much of that quarterfinal.
“Having been beaten by them in 2019, seeing them beat Scotland, whereas if you saw the game last summer it was also a close game.
“They’ll be better since the summer and better since they played in Australia, it’s a team that the more time they spend together the better they get better – so for us we know it will be a task. serious. “
So, while he expected Ryan to play a role against Japan next Saturday and debut against New Zealand, the following week the debate centers on who should put him in second place.
The smart money is on Tadhg Beirne at No.4 for the Brave Blossoms and Iain Henderson at No.4 for the All Blacks.
“New Zealand’s strength is in the set piece as well as defense and offense, so it’s more complete,” Ryan continued of the “big” game in the November series.
“The All Blacks are working at such a pace and it’s a big challenge for us to see how quickly we can get back on track defensively, what our appetite is and what our intention is, and then keep building for the rest of the month. . “
A boost for the coaching setup in Ireland
On the good news front, Ryan insists there has been a significant improvement between Ireland 2019 – beaten 12-19 by Japan and 14-46 by New Zealand – and Ireland 2021.
No surprise then, he’s referring to the man whose Superman pajamas are wearing… the arrival of Paul O’Connell in Irish coaching roster, says Ryan, has been exponentially brilliant.
“Paul, since he arrived, has done a really good job in this area of our game which is our ruck that has really happened over the last 6-9 months.
“To be honest, he looks a lot like Joe Schmidt (who was Ryan’s biggest fan since playing schoolboy rugby) in the way he sees the breakdown, the way he trains him.
“Joe obviously had a great influence on Paul as he was on all of us.”
Many of the 2021 benefits of the pack are due to O’Connell’s new contribution.
“It was an area of our game that was very strong in the Six Nations. It must be because this is the heart of our attack.
“The melee set pieces too, we have grown in this area.
John Fogarty (Scrum trainer) and Paul, since arriving, have done a good job there in the scrum, improved our drive in particular, I think that was one of our strengths this summer.
“In terms of the overall game, we’re trying to be very good in terms of unstructured attacking, being able to put phases together in a consistent way on turnover or when the ball goes behind us.
“Our own unstructured attack is probably an area for us that has happened in the last 12 months and it is an area that we are trying to keep pushing…”
Johnny Sexton’s future
Meanwhile, the issue with Johnny Sexton, if he was to be picked and considered a live starter of RWC2023, should be captain at RWC2023, rumbles.
It is a delicate subject for Ryan who has his share of supporters when it comes to the Irish harbor master’s office.
Right now, the second row happy to stick around with club captain Sexton: “I can’t talk enough about Johnny as a teammate and as a friend.
“He’s someone I grew up idolizing. He’s a great player and a great person and his influence on the team is huge as well.
“I would probably tell you like this: The difference between when he’s there in training and when he’s not there is pretty noticeable.
“When he goes into a workout you know it, you can feel it because of his competitiveness and the advantage he always brings.
“His influence for us on the training ground and on the pitch is huge. A hundred caps for your country is pretty incredible, and I hope it can make it over the next few weeks.
James Ryan on …
Who is the new one?
“Yes, it’s funny, I haven’t seen Simon Zebo since my first tour in 2017 and it’s been a while now!
“He has reintegrated well and it will be interesting to see how he is.”
Here is the RWC 2023
“It’s exciting to think about it already, but it’s the pinnacle of the sport we play, it’s the world stage.
“At the end of the day that’s where we’re judged, but saying we have five game blocks by then to grow and keep improving, and this month is kind of the first of those -this.
Usual suspects are usual markers
“With the arrival of the All Blacks in town, it will be them alongside the Boks who are the benchmark at the moment in our sport.
“It will be good to see where we are at, and even before that with Japan it will be a real test for us as well.
The young guns go there
“There’s a bit of a mix here between some of the older chefs and the younger guys coming in with Ciarán Frawley and Dan Sheehan on the team.
“We’ve also seen a number of young players play a big role this summer, so I think there’s a good balance there now.”